By Amy Kawata

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In Maryland, data shows the number of COVID-19 cases among children has been steadily rising since July. Even as COVID-19 cases surge, students are returning back to the classrooms for in-person learning.

“The number of patients that have been admitted with COVID-19 in the hospital under the age of 12 have increased over the last couple of weeks,” said Dr. Jason Custer, Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.

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Despite the uptick in cases, the director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, Dr. Jason Custer, said he believes it’s still safe to go back to school if everyone takes proper precautions.

“I think we can do school safely, but I think we all need to be in this together,” said Custer.

In the last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported nearly 121,000 new cases among children in the U.S.

Dr. Custer said the rise is likely because kids younger than 12 still cannot get a vaccine, along with the more contagious Delta variant fueling a rise in cases.

“I’d say two months ago, things were low and heading in the right direction and seemed to be sustainably low, and then as we’re seeing an uptick. It’s concerning, it certainly got our attention,” said Dr. Custer.

In Frederick County, public school students started their first day back to the classrooms on Wednesday with masks.

“I feel good about it. I’m really excited that they’re back in school,” said one parent, Tina Ellis.

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Although some parents are concerned about the spike in cases, Ellis said she’s still hoping her daughter will have a full year of in-person learning.

“I am comfortable. She is 12, so she is vaccinated,” said Ellis.

While the number of hospitalizations among children remains low, Dr. Custer said parents should still remain vigilant.

“I think that the message needs to be that the virus is serious and dismissing it as a non-serious virus may be a bit of a mistake,” said Custer.

Pediatricians said they’re not only seeing more patients with COVID-19 but more with winter viruses like RSV as well. Hospital systems are now preparing for things to potentially get worse.

“There are only so many intensive care beds for pediatric patients in the state of Maryland and we’re working very closely with state officials to try to understand, how do make sure we optimize that,” said Dr. Custer.

Experts are encouraging parents to get vaccinated and protect their children with hand hygiene, social distancing and mask-wearing.

“We need to continue to be vigilant with those mitigating factors. If you’re eligible for the vaccine, go get vaccinated. We want to send as many of our 12 and over students back into the schools fully vaccinated, that will help,” said Dr. Custer.

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As students head back to the classroom, doctors say if your child is showing any COVID-19 symptoms, make sure you keep them home to avoid the spread of the virus.