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Critical Pediatric Hospitalizations Decreased During COVID-19 Pandemic

Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) hospitalizations were 41% lower than expected during the outbreak of COVID-19.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, people were advised not to present to the hospital with noncritical illness to avoid overburdening the healthcare system. In Wisconsin, pediatric critical care personnel noted a steep decrease in pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admissions during spring 2020.

One study, presented virtually during this week’s 51st Critical Care Congress, chose Wisconsin to study how COVID-19 affected pediatric critical care because the state has 5 PICUs that work collaboratively. The research team sought to determine whether spring 2020 decline in PICU admissions was distinct from typical seasonal decline, as well as if certain types of PICU admissions contributed to this decline.

The investigators used the Virtual Pediatric Systems (VPS, LLC) registry to collect admissions data from all 5 PICUs. The study comprised 25390 PICU admissions from March 25, 2015-May 13, 2020. The pooled data included approximated admissions dates, associated diagnoses, and diagnostic categories. PICU admissions were categorized as scheduled or unscheduled, and trauma or non-trauma.

The COVID-19 study period was March 25-May 13, 2020, during which Wisconsin’s Safer at Home Orders were in effect. This period was compared to seasonally matched PICU admissions over the prior 5 years.

The investigators found that the rate of PICU admissions dropped from 94±10 during the control period to 57±11 during the COVID-19 study period. This decrease was 41% lower than anticipated by prior seasonal PICU admissions dips. The investigators summarized their results: “Respiratory viral admissions fell from 13±5 to 4±4 (72% lower than expected, p< 0.001), scheduled admissions fell from 28±6 to 13±7 (53% lower than expected, p< 0.001), and trauma admissions fell from 5±2 to 4±2 admissions per week (32% lower than expected, p=0.049).”

Comprising 68% of the PICU admission decline were the categories of respiratory viral admissions, scheduled admissions, and trauma admissions. The study results seem to confirm that Wisconsin’s Safer at Home Orders ensured fewer PICU hospital admissions.

The study, “A Collaborative, Retrospective Study of Pediatric Critical Illness in Wisconsin During COVID-19,” was presented on April 18, 2022, during the 51st Critical Care Congress.