Chicago-area hospitals are filling up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday as cases of a number of respiratory viruses rise, so health experts say it’s important to think about a few things before assembling this week.
Hospitals are already reporting a concerning rate of pediatric hospitalizations, with intensive care unit bed capacity falling well into the numbers. Some health experts fear a post-Thanksgiving surge could make the situation even worse.
“It’s only November and RSV has already come and hit us hard. And there are other viruses that aren’t in the news as much that are also surging right now just because it’s the season for respiratory viruses,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health. “If we see a significant increase, and we will undoubtedly see that, in flu and COVID, on top of that, especially for children, you know, we might run out of good hospital capacity.”
So what should you be thinking about if you plan to gather this week?
“If you’re not feeling well, you know first and foremost to stay home,” Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, told NBC Chicago. “Not really need to know why or what disease it is, but especially respiratory diseases. If you don’t feel well today, chances are you won’t feel well Thursday. And even if you feel better, you’ll probably still be symptomatic, so making that decision early and being able to share it with your potential hosts or potential visitors would be really, really important.
Although COVID testing remains essential to prevent the spread of COVID, it will not help stop the spread of RSV or influenza.
Health officials are also urging people to get both flu and bivalent COVID shots.
Certain measures can make a gathering safer, experts have said.
“If you’re a concerned person, if you have a young child in particular, and you’re worried about RSV, wash your hands,” Arwady said. “If the kids are able to put on a mask…if you have cold symptoms, please put a mask on….It’s about keeping your germs to yourself, whether it’s COVID or not. But also, it’s about keeping the kids home, if they’re really not feeling well. Rule number one, stay home when you’re sick, still applies. And then anything else you can do around it ventilation. So having the windows open a bit even on Thanksgiving, if you’re going somewhere warmer on Thanksgiving, do it outside. Those are all things that limit the risk not only for COVID, but for all other respiratory viruses.
Ventilation was also a big tip from Ayala.
“Ventilation and airflow are what we have found over the past three years [being] terribly effective in reducing or increasing the risk of disease transmission [and] respiratory viral transmission. So if you’re going somewhere and you can open the windows or open the doors or go outside to have a conversation, [you should]. Luckily, it looks like the weather will be pretty moderate for this weekend,” Ayala said.
Experts are also urging parents to protect those at particular risk of contracting viruses like RSV and influenza, especially young children.
“I think what we’re going to see is people are going to be a lot more tuned in to make sure their business coming in, their visitors coming in are, you know, if they’re coughing a lot, it’s maybe time to shorten the visit. If you have a new baby at home, maybe ask people to mask up, don’t let people take the baby or kiss the baby’s face,” Ayala said.
The DuPage County Health Department revealed on Tuesday that there were days when there were no beds available for critically ill children.
“Hospitals and clinics are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people with respiratory illnesses like influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19,” the county health department said Tuesday. DuPage in a statement. “Children are particularly affected, with more children with serious illnesses seeking care in hospitals with a few hours of waiting to be seen. Some even need to be transferred to another health facility.”
The county fears conditions could worsen after the holidays.
“RSV is not a new virus. Influenza is not a new virus. But we are seeing earlier and more severe cases of illness,” Ayala told NBC Chicago. “And yes, we’re worried because…we’re going to get together, we’re going to be spending more time indoors than outdoors. All of this leads us to fear that it will get worse before it gets better. “
Meanwhile, attorney Aurora Health said all of its facilities have a “limited visitation policy” in place as they work to “reduce the spread of COVID, flu and other illnesses.” seasonal”.
A hospital spokesperson told NBC Chicago the decision was “due to the substantial increase in influenza activity.”
Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge is one of many children’s hospitals in the area facing unprecedented demand.
“I’ve never seen pediatric medicine like this in my practice, in my career,” Dr. John Howard, site director of pediatric emergencies, told NBC Chicago on Tuesday.
The waiting time for emergencies is also increasing, up to 10 hours. Advocate Children’s also opened a new “Fast Track” area on November 7, to accommodate patients with less acuity, who may be able to return home the same day.
“Parts of the waiting room have been redesigned to create patient beds where there were none,” Howard said.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said “seasonal influenza activity is high across the country,” with levels reported to be elevated in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Public Health told NBC Chicago on Tuesday that the availability of pediatric intensive care beds has fallen to just 5% statewide.
“We’re kind of overwhelmed with RSV cases. We’re probably at about three to five times our usual normal cases,” said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, chief operating officer of the Cook County Public Health Department. .
But flu cases are also increasing in many hospitals and some experts believe the current flu strain is hitting children and the elderly harder than previous strains.
According to IDPH, the current flu strain circulating the most in the state is H3, with some cases being H3N2. A similar trend is reported nationally.
Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, reportedly said the strain has historically been associated with more severe flu seasons in children and the elderly.