By Stephanie Stahl

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) – The FDA authorized COVID booster shots for children ages 5 to 11. This comes as cases are again surging, especially in the Northeast.

Cases are up 60% across the U.S. and because home testing is so widespread, it’s now estimated the actual number of COVID cases is five times higher than the official count.

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COVID’s spring surge has moved into high gear across the Northeast. Locally over the past two weeks, Pennsylvania has had a 60% increase in COVID cases, New Jersey is up 66% and Delaware has a 131% jump in infections.

“I think part of the problem is everybody has become dismissive that COVID exists,” Chief Infection Control Officer at Virtua Health Dr. Martin Topiel said.

Dr. Topiel says infections are increasing because fewer people are wearing masks, and also the sub-variants are more contagious even for people who’ve had COVID and are vaccinated.

“So it’s all of a sudden taking off. Unfortunately, the natural immunity that vaccine-induced immunity is not as protective against this variant. There are some mutations in it, and it escapes immunity to a certain degree,” Dr. Topiel said.

There have also been increases in people getting re-infected within months, and in some cases, antivirals are linked to rebounding: people getting better, then sick again. And while most cases are mild, hospitalizations are increasing.

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“We should be masking indoors, particularly in areas where ventilation is unclear. So we need to still be on alert. We’re going to be dealing with graduations, graduation parties, all the things that have contributed to further spread of infection,” Dr. Topiel said.

Doctors are hoping boosters for children could help curb the spike. The FDA has cleared the additional shot for kids 5 to 11.

Doctors say vaccines remain critically important for everyone.

“It’s part of the armamentarium we have, we need that entire spread of antiviral therapy, boosters, monoclonal antibodies, in order to fight this infection off. We need to have a full-fledged army to fight this war,” Dr. Topiel said.

The CDC has the final ruling on boosters for children. That vote is expected Thursday.

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CBS3’s Jan Carabeo contributed to this report.

Stephanie Stahl