FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – Local health officials are reporting an increase in the number of children testing positive for COVID-19, saying the Omicron variant is spreading through the population faster than other variants.

“We have absolutely seen an increase in the number of positive cases,” said Kelly Avants from the Clovis Unified School District.

Since Jan. 3, more than 1,500 Clovis Unified elementary school students have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in a high number of absences.

Superintendent at the Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District Dr. Wes Sever says his schools are seeing the same thing.

“Currently, we have between 8-18% of our students on any given day that are out because of the COVID-19 variant,” he said.

Dr. Nael Mhaissen from Valley Children’s Hospital says the number of children coming into the ER who are testing positive for COVID-19 has increased dramatically this month.

“The positivity rate went up from around 3% in December to about 30% last week. The virus is finding that population of individuals that are under-immunized and finding its way through that population,” he said.

The good news, he says, is that while the Omicron variant is more contagious, it doesn’t seem to be as severe, especially among children who are vaccinated.

“The cases of COVID that we’ve seen in individuals who are vaccinated are either mildly symptomatic or doesn’t have symptoms at all,” he said.

He also said 100% of the children who come into the hospital with symptoms are unvaccinated.

When children in Clovis or Kingsburg Unified test positive, they go home for five days and can come back if they test negative.