DES MOINES, Iowa — Community leaders are concerned about rising omicron cases among youth and young adults in Polk County.

On Tuesday, Polk County and health leaders held a press conference to address the issue. County leaders said they saw a significant increase in child hospitalizations over several months. Moreover, Blank Children’s Hospital Dr. Joel Waddell said if children and young adults recover, it is a possibility that they could develop a rare condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

“When a child contracts COVID, they beat the virus, but their immune systems do not get the signal to turn off. And about a month later, their immune system starts attacking multiple organs in their body,” said Dr. Waddell. “And the majority of them have heart involvement, meaning they have heart inflammation and inflammation of their coronary arteries as a result of this syndrome, and we do not know the long-term outcomes of children with MIS-C.”

County leaders say to date, the vaccination rate among children between 5 and 9 years old is less than 39%, while the vaccination rate for children between 10 and 19 years old is less than 60%.

Moreover, Blank Children’s Hospital says it saw a 300% increase in youth hospitalizations in the past three months, and it expects that percentage to increase in the next few weeks. Doctors said many children who are hospitalized are not vaccinated.

“The majority of children who are hospitalized are unvaccinated. Approximately 94% of children hospitalized with COVID are not fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Waddell. “Some of those children are not vaccine eligible, meaning that they’re under 5 years of age. But a large number of them are 5 years or older, and these hospitalizations could be avoided.”

Since the omicron variant can quickly spread, county leaders urge the public to get vaccinated and mask up while in public.

“We are appealing to you. We need you to take care of yourself, your family, your friends, the health care workers and our community,” said Polk County Health Department Director Helen Eddy. “We must do this together. It’s the only way we will succeed. We must do this together for each other. We are appealing to you. We need you.”

The Polk County medical examiner reports seeing a higher number of deaths among younger adults.