SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – As the Delta variant continues to cause a spike in COVID-19 patients, doctors nationwide are reporting an alarming trend of school-aged children getting sick with the virus and requiring hospitalization. Doctors say they are seeing more young patients now than at any other time during the pandemic – but why?

Dr. Brandon Webb, Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Diseases Physician, says his healthcare system is reporting 100% capacity in ICUs. Meanwhile, the system’s Primary Children’s Hospital is also reporting an increase in children admitted for COVID-19.

While doctors lack full answers to why so many children are now experiencing COVID-19, Dr. Webb says the Delta variant is likely to blame.

“It appears that because the delta variant causes such high viral numbers, and we know the more virus you are exposed to, the higher the likelihood that that virus is able to overwhelm the first line of defense with the immune system,” Dr. Webb explains. This means the virus, in this case, COVID-19, is able to cause more severe disease.

Dr. Webb attributes the higher cases in younger children to the higher viral numbers with the Delta variant. When children come in contact with someone with the Delta variant, they are being exposed to a higher volume of the coronavirus.

He continues, saying mitigation methods like wearing a mask, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings can reduce the amount of viral particles children are exposed to. Following these methods can reduce the chances of a child experiencing a severe case of COVID-19.

Currently, there is no COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under the age of 12. Dr. Webb says health officials believe a dose could be approved as soon as late September. On Thursday, Utah reported 1,491 new COVID-19 cases with 358 reported among school-aged children. Among those, the majority of cases -160- were reported in those between the age of 5-10.