'It's the perfect storm': Capacity issues intensify at children's hospitals amid RSV surge

Children's hospitals across the country are increasingly operating at or beyond capacity as they struggle to treat an unrelenting surge of patients with respiratory illnesses.

Hospitals in at least 23 states told NBC News they are facing capacity issues amid an unseasonably early and severe surge of patients with illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus and rhinovirus. 

Hartford-based Connecticut Children's Medical Center said it is speaking with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard about potentially installing a tent outside the facility to house more patients. RSV cases spiked at the hospital in September and continue to rise.  

"Why so much in September and October, we don't know," Juan Salazar, MD, the hospital's physician-in-chief, told WTNH News 8. "We have theories. Herd immunity, immune suppression and everyone getting it at the same time, it's the perfect storm at our emergency departments."

Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore houses 80 pediatric acute care beds, 20 oncology beds and about 28 pediatric intensive care unit beds, all of which are "completely full," Eric Biondi, MD, chief of pediatric hospital medicine, told The Washington Post. The hospital hit capacity several times amid the pandemic but has never reached this point during a typical virus season. 

The capacity issues are complicating care for many pediatric patients. Sofia Teferi, MD, a pediatrician at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told the Post Oct. 19 that she was treating a 4-month-old in the emergency department because no ICU beds were available in the region. 

The surge in respiratory viruses comes amid warnings that the U.S. may face a severe flu season and new COVID-19 wave this winter. 

"We're preparing for it to last through flu season because we know what our disease patterns are. Our predictions are only as good as the next day," Joanna Fazio, vice president of the pediatric service line at Inova Health System in Falls Church, Va., told the Post


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