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Harrison School District 2 students, left to right, Kyla Randle, Parker Layman and Laila Randle wear masks as they wait to enter Centennial Elementary School in Colorado Springs on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. The students were at the school Wednesday to make a video for parents. The video will show parents what to expect when their kids return to in-person learning this fall. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Cases of COVID-19 among children ages 6 to 11 are on the rise and remain the highest among any age group as the state’s overall case rate is decreasing, public health officials said Friday.

While coronavirus infections are gradually declining among most other age groups, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state’s epidemiologist, said the state will continue to monitor the new trend among those school-age children who are still ineligible for vaccines.

Kids under the age of 12 remain the only group still ineligible for vaccination because no vaccine has yet been approved for them. But attention on the group will intensify in the coming weeks, as the drug maker Pfizer goes through the final processes of getting its COVID-19 vaccine authorized kids ages 5 to 11.

Pfizer last month released data showing that its vaccine — at a much lower dose — is safe and effective in children ages 5 to 11. The company has submitted that data to regulators at the federal Food and Drug Administration, who have scheduled public meetings for later this month to discuss approval of the vaccine for kids in that age group. A decision to grant emergency authorization for the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 could come as early as Halloween.

Despite the downward trend of cases among the general population, hospitalizations remain high. 

As of Friday, 829 people were hospitalized with COVID, 78% of whom were unvaccinated, data show. Nearly 89% of the state’s ICU beds were in use, though not all of them were filled by people being treated for COVID-19.

“We are at an incredibly high rate of hospitalizations compared to where we want to be,” said Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID incident commander. “So while we are beginning a downward trend here, we really need to see these hospitalizations go down significantly before we’re going to feel comfortable with the capacity that we have as we start going into the colder weather period and people start moving indoors.”

“This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Bookman said.

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer based in Colorado Springs for The Colorado Sun, covering breaking news, wildfires and all things interesting impacting Coloradans. Before joining The Sun, Olivia covered criminal justice for The Colorado Springs Gazette. She’s also worked at newspapers in New Orleans and New Jersey, where she grew up. After graduating college, she lived in a tiny, rural town in southern Madagascar for three years as a Peace Corps volunteer. When not writing, Olivia enjoys backpacking and climbing Colorado’s tallest peaks.