BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Alabama marked two grim milestones this week. The Alabama Department of Public Health reports more than one million cases since the pandemic began and hospitals are battling a record number of children admitted with COVID-19.

This week the state reports 71 children are fighting the virus in hospitals across Alabama. That’s a record high for pediatric hospitalizations.

The highly contagious Omicron variant is partly to blame. Doctors say while Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant, it is impacting everyone at a much higher rate. State health officer Dr. Scott Harris said our children are very vulnerable right now, especially with the return to school.

“We know that even though people are fully vaccinated, they can have break through infections. They rarely get seriously ill or rarely seem to die. So when people are unvaccinated, those are the ones that tend to end up in the hospital. Kids being our most unvaccinated group, it’s not surprising we’re seeing those pediatric numbers go up,” said Dr. Harris.

Dr. Harris said parents should weigh their options and talk with a doctor about vaccinations and booster shots.

Harris said right now, other than vaccines and boosters, mask wearing is one of the simplest ways to keep your children safe while at school.