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Hospitals filling up as flu, RSV and COVID cases climb; some impose visitor restrictions

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There have been sharp increases in patients being admitted with respiratory illnesses, and children’s hospitals are nearly as full as they were a year ago, the CDC says.

Hospitals are seeing the sequel they didn’t want.

Image: Novant Health

Novant Health is one of a number of health systems imposing visitor restrictions as hospitals see more patients with the flu, COVID, or RSV. Shown: Novant Health Forsythe Medical Center (Image: Novant Health)

Once again this year, hospitals are seeing a return of the triple-demic, as they see an influx of patients with the flu, RSV and COVID-19. Hospitals are filling up and some providers are revising policies for visitors and staff, with some limiting visitors and requiring masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been advising health providers to get patients immunized in the wake of the rising number of patients with one of the three illnesses, especially as they are filling more hospital beds. The CDC is also warning of the potential for strain on the system causing delays in caring for patients.

Over the previous four weeks, the CDC said hospitalizations rose by 200% for influenza, 51% for COVID-19 and 60% for RSV. More than 172,000 emergency department visits nationwide were recorded for those three illnesses for the week ending Dec. 16, up from 100,000 on Nov. 18, according to CDC data.

Children’s hospitals are nearly as full as they were this time last year, the CDC said Dec. 14.

“If these trends continue, the situation at the end of this month could again strain emergency departments and hospitals,” the CDC warned in the statement. “Strain on the healthcare system could mean that patients with other serious health conditions may face delays in receiving care.”

The CDC is advising providers to administer antiviral medications for eligible patients with the flu and COVID-19.

Some health systems and hospitals are implementing restrictions on visitors to stem the spread of respiratory viruses.

Beginning Wednesday, UPMC in Pennsylvania began requiring staff, visitors, and patients to wear masks at all of the system’s facilities, including hospitals, clinics, outpatient medical centers and senior living facilities. UPMC pointed to the rise in respiratory illnesses.

This week, Novant Health, based in North Carolina, asked visitors not to bring children under the age of 13 to the system’s hospitals and to stay home if they’re ill. While masks remain optional for visitors, Novant suggested visitors consider masking.

“In all of the communities we serve, we are observing an increase in flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases,” David Priest, senior vice president, and chief safety and quality officer of Novant Health, said in a statement. “We appreciate the community’s help in taking extra care when visiting our facilities this respiratory virus season as we work to protect our patients.”

UW Health in Wisconsin is requiring patients, staff and visitors to wear masks for patient interactions in clinic settings. UW Health imposed the new requirements Tuesday.

“Health systems are already feeling the impact of this respiratory season,” Dan Shirley, UW Health's medical director of infection prevention, said in a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal. “Emergency department visits for respiratory illness are climbing as are COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

Citing the rise of RSV and flu cases, MultiCare Health System, based in Tacoma, Washington, issued a requirement this week for staff, patients and visitors to wear masks in hospitals and emergency departments in the Spokane region. MultiCare staff must wear masks in clinics outside hospitals, and patients and visitors are “strongly recommended” to wear masks.

Detroit Medical Center updates its visitor policy this week for its facilities, including Children’s Hospital of Michigan, saying visitors 12 and under won’t be allowed on inpatient hospital floors or in observation units. The medical center also advised those who aren’t feeling well to hold off on visiting until they feel better.

Earlier this month, Banner Health implemented seasonal restrictions reflecting flu and RSV cases, prohibiting those under the age of 13 from seeing patients in their rooms.

The uptick in hospitalizations come as there is growing attention to the variant of COVID dubbed JN.1. This week, the World Health Organization declared it to be a “variant of interest,” although the WHO also says the overall public health risk remains low.

The CDC estimates 21% of new COVID infections involve the JN.1 variant. However, the agency also says there’s no evidence to suggest that the variant is any more serious health risk with JN.1 than with other variants.


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