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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Health experts are sounding the alarm this week about the rapidly growing number of children coming down with COVID-19 across the state. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is reporting that children made up nearly 25% of the state’s COVID-19 cases in the last four weeks.

“I have significant concerns about the number of cases that we’re seeing in children in the State of Alabama,” said Dr. Karen Landers of the ADPH.

Dr. Landers made those comments during a panel organized by the Alabama Medical Association, where she also expressed concern about the impact long-haul COVID-19 is having on kids.

“One of the things that we are seeing in children is that at least 10% of kids might have long COVID, and by that I mean perhaps problems with brain fog or ability to concentrate, sleeping issues, fatigue,” said Dr. Landers.

The ADPH is hoping parents will encourage their children to mask up, socially distance, get a COVID-19 vaccine if they’re eligible, and to isolate for a full 10 days if they come into close contact with the virus. State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey is also urging parents to be patient with district staff trying to navigate COVID-19 protocols and mask requirements.

“We’re still obviously, really really pushing for vaccinations, and I’ve also gotten a lot of hate email over that,” said Mackey.

Over 9,000 new cases were reported by the ADPH this week in k-12 students statewide, more than double that of the previous week.

“This spike ended up hitting us as the perfect storm, because the spike came just as schools were opening,” said Mackey.

And State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris is worried about the potential for the virus to spread from kids to their loved ones and others in the community, ultimately putting further pressure on Alabama’s already overwhelmed health system. Statewide, hospitals are still facing a shortage of staffed ICU beds, the Alabama Hospital Association reporting an 83 bed shortage.

“That’s just a terrible situation to be in. That means that those patients are getting ICU care but its not in an ICU, it’s in an emergency department or they’re on a gurney in the hallway,” said Dr. Harris.

Meanwhile, Dr. Landers is urging parents with concerns about getting their kids a COVID-19 vaccine to turn their family doctor and ask them for their opinion before making a final decision.