NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Cases of COVID-19 are increasing across Tennessee, and even children are being impacted with severe cases. 

Statewide, Tennessee saw an increase of more than 5,500 cases and 98 new hospitalizations on Thursday.

Dr. Joseph Gigante at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital says they're starting to feel the strain. 

"That is a very real fear — we're going to overwhelm the system if we see a major outbreak of COVID in the Nashville or the Middle Tennessee area," he said. 

Dr. Gigante says the hospital has recently seen an uptick in child admissions for COVID-19. 

"We've seen unfortunately several children who have been admitted to the ICU and we're seeing more kids in our outpatient office who have symptoms and are testing positive," he said. 

He added that the hospital is seeing typical admissions from childhood injuries, paired with a spike in RSV cases — a respiratory illness commonly seen in fall and winter — and severe COVID-19 cases. 

With children under the age of 12 still ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Gigante says they should be wearing masks and the people around them should be vaccinated. 

Right now only 40 percent of Tennessee is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with 46 percent having received at least one dose, according to the state health department. 

Dr. Gigante says parents are worried their child could suffer severe complications from COVID-19. 

"You're worried about about if your child is the unfortunate one who ends up in the hospital and they're hopeful that they don't develop more severe symptoms that would require admission to the ICU," he said. 

Health experts say if you think your child is showing COVID-19 symptoms, seek help from your family pediatrician first, rather than bringing them into the ER for testing. 

They say since your pediatrician knows your child better, they'll be able to better advise you on what steps you should take next. 

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