Hospitals across the country are reportedly filling up with young patients suffering from the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Wyoming is no exception.
Levi Keener is director of clinical operations at Community Hospital in Torrington. He said last week was a bad one.
“Monday we were at a critical surge,” he said. “We had over 20 inpatients, and we are a 25-bed licensed hospital.”
Maintaining care at the packed facility was complicated by the blizzard that hit the state, he added.
While the hospital’s patient load wasn’t as high as during the height of a COVID-19 delta variant surge, Keener said, COVID is still playing a role. Several patients tested positive for a combination of RSV, flu and COVID, he said.
Many medical professionals theorize RSV and respiratory illnesses are widespread and intense this year because people, especially kids, were not as exposed to certain infections due to pandemic-era precautions. Now that much of the U.S. has emerged from the pandemic, the illnesses are roaring back to reach those who hadn’t been infected over the last few years.
At the same time, science has shown that distancing and masking slowed down COVID infections, likely saving the lives of vulnerable individuals, especially before vaccines were available.
At Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie, Pediatrician Brahmananda K. Koduri said the staff has been busy for about two months with young patients, and RSV is a main reason. The hospital has three rooms for children, but they’re only usable “depending on nurse availability,” Koduri said.
Despite the increased number of kids and long hours, he said, so far, “we’re doing OK.”
Koduri noted that the hospital sends certain patients elsewhere, like the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.
Erin McKinney is a clinical director for women and children’s services at that Cheyenne hospital. The facility has 14 rooms for kids, she said, though two rooms can accommodate two beds.
Still, she said, occasionally kids have had to wait in the emergency department for spaces to open in the children’s area, and the hospital tries to avoid putting two beds in a single room to limit disease spread.
“The majority of ours has been RSV,” she said. “Not as much COVID and some flu, but definitely RSV.”
While the winter season is generally busy because of respiratory illnesses, McKinney said it’s lasting much longer than usual.
“It’s not just two weeks” of high rates, she said. Instead, it’s been closer to five weeks there so far.
And it’s not just lasting longer, but started earlier.
McKinney said their facility often sends kids to Children’s Hospital Colorado. A spokesperson with that facility, Sarah Davis, said in an email: “Through November, the number of patients seeking care was on average 30% higher than the busiest of days in a typical respiratory season, which has historically been from January to March.”
That hospital organization — which has facilities in northern and southern Colorado — has seen its RSV numbers starting to decrease, Davis said, but flu cases have started ticking up.
“We continue to operate at very high levels and above any other previous respiratory surge in the history of our hospital system,” she said.
That facility is encouraging anyone who is eligible for the flu or COVID vaccines to get them. Beyond that, Davis reiterated that people remember the basics: wash hands and stay home if you’re sick.
“While our children were not as affected by the pandemic a year ago, this year is very different,” she said.
Children’s Hospital Colorado also has a chart on its website detailing the symptom differences parents can watch for between RSV, COVID and the flu.
Dr. Koduri in Laramie considers this surge in children’s illnesses as an inevitability.
After a few years of caution around COVID-19 suppressing some children’s outbreaks, he sees an early, intense season for pediatric illnesses as a natural progression.
“This is part of what children go through,” he said. “It’s going to happen no matter what. It is what it is.”