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Hospitals are packed and wait times are long. Blame RSV, the flu and COVID-19, Ohio's top docs say

University Hospitals rainbow statue outside of the main building in Cleveland
Tim Harrison
/
Ideastream Public Media
COVID-19, influenza and RSV are all circulating in Northeast Ohio and around the state. "Never before have we had to contend with all three of these viruses driving illnesses at the same time," said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

COVID-19 is circulating, respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, is raging among children and there has been a recent spike in the number flu cases in Ohio. The result is hospitals across the state — especially those that treat children — are swamped and doctors are imploring the public to take steps to prevent the spread of these viruses.

"Our hospitals — especially our pediatric hospitals — right now are overwhelmed. RSV has hit us hard this year and hit us early," said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. "We are already seeing many more admissions to our hospitals of the flu."

Doctors from across the state asked the public to take measures to stay well or at least stay out of the emergency room unless absolutely necessary during an Ohio Department of Health (ODH) press conference Tuesday.

"Our staff is tired. It’s been a long three years," Hoyen added. "Never before have we had to contend with all three of these viruses driving illnesses at the same time."

Wash your hands frequently, stay home when you're sick — or keep sick children out of daycare or school if they have symptoms — and get vaccinated against COVID-19 or the flu, they recommended. Masking helps too, doctors said, if you've got symptoms but can't stay home or just want to avoid getting sick when you're out and about.

Besides protecting ourselves and our children from infection, Hoyen urged the public to take steps to protect the health care system so that there is the capacity to provide care if someone is in a car accident or has a heart attack.

The demand for care is stretching hospital resources and staff thin, and that's leading to longer wait times at urgent cares and emergency rooms, said ODH's director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

Some hospitals are responding by opening overflow units and asking primary care docs to extend their hours to keep people from heading to the ER.

"COVID created a network of connectedness between the hospital [and primary care doctors] so that when we need help we can reach out," said Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney, chief of staff at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.

But there are times when it's important to get to an emergency room. Most cases of RSV just result in cold-like symptoms, but some cases — especially in small babies — can be severe.

“Parents of infants with RSV should be especially alert for certain signs and symptoms like decreased feeding or activity levels, fever or wheezing," said Vanderhoff. A fever over 100.4 degrees in a child under 3 months of age should also prompt a trip to the ER, he said.

If you're worried or unsure, call your pediatrician.

“We want to encourage concerned parents to contact their child's medical provider promptly, recognizing that the majority of patients can be cared for in the primary care setting, whether virtually or in person or in an urgent care rather than in an emergency room," Vanderhoff said.

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Stephanie is the digital producer/editor of Ideastream Public Media’s health team.