Several Southern California hospitals have begun using overflow tents outside of the emergency room to cope with an increasing number of patients with the flu and other respiratory illnesses.
Tents were set up at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, UC San Diego Health’s Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla, and Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.
The move comes amid an increase in flu symptoms among emergency room patients in San Diego County. The dominant strain, H3N2, seems to lead to more serious illnesses than usual.
About nine percent of these patients had flu symptoms last week, up from 7 percent two weeks ago, according to a provincial report that also noted an increase in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, albeit not as quickly.
Scripps Hospitals and Doctor’s Offices reported 1,695 positive flu tests since Sept. 1, a 259 percent increase from 471 in the same period a year ago.
The Centers for Disease Control has said the flu and other viral illnesses have become “remarkably high” in New York City, Washington DC and several states in the South – Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Several Southern California hospitals have begun using overflow tents outside of emergency rooms to cope with increasing numbers of patients with flu and other respiratory illnesses
Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encitas. Scripps Hospitals and Doctor’s Offices reported 1,695 positive flu tests since Sept. 1, compared to 471 in the same period a year ago
Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa has also pitched tents to care for additional patients
UC San Diego Health in La Jolla is another hospital that has dealt with a plethora of flu cases
Health experts said it wasn’t immediately clear whether flu cases would reach an earlier-than-usual peak in California, where the bulk of cases are typically seen in December through February, or a protracted flu season.
Influenza cases have also hit the southern hemisphere early this year, with experts wondering if it will last into February or burn out sooner, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“The fear is that everything just bounces off everything else and once you go through the flu, you could still be hit with COVID or whatever virus you’re going to get,” said Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, Scripps Health’s chief medical officer of acute care operations and clinical excellence.
The Biden administration will extend COVID-19’s status as a health emergency beyond January and possibly into the spring, according to a new report on Friday, despite the president previously declaring the pandemic over.
“I’m hopeful, but we still plan for it to be like this until February,” Sharieff said.
The extension comes amid fears of a resurgence of cases this winter, when people spend more time indoors. Some experts are even concerned about a ‘triplemic’ of COVID, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV
Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services last month extended the order through Jan. 11, telling states they would receive 60 days’ notice before the public health emergency is lifted.
A busy flu season is not unexpected. The country had two mild seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts fear the flu is making a strong comeback as a COVID-weary public has moved away from masks and other measures that curb the spread of respiratory viruses.
In much of the United States, flu season is kicking off quickly. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more flu cases are being reported than normally expected at this time.
There may be some good news: COVID-19 cases have been on a downward trend in recent weeks and are stabilizing.
The Biden administration will extend COVID-19’s status as a health emergency beyond January and possibly into the spring
And in a few parts of the country, health officials think they may be seeing early signs that a wave of another respiratory virus is beginning to subside. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common cause in children of cold symptoms such as runny nose, cough, and fever.
While RSV continues to rise nationally, preliminary data suggests a decline in the Southeast, Southwest and in an area encompassing the Rocky Mountain states and the Dakotas, CDC officials said.
Experts believe that the number of infections from RSV has increased recently because children are now more vulnerable and no longer protected against common insects as they are during pandemic lockdowns. The virus, which usually affects children aged 1 and 2, is now making more children up to the age of 5 sick.
At the Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago, the beds have been full for 54 days.
“The curves are all going up for RSV and flu,” said Dr. John Cunningham, Comer’s chief physician.
RSV illnesses appear to be unusually severe, he added.
Comer has had to turn down transfer requests from other hospitals because there was no room. Chicago area hospitals could have transferred children to Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin, but that has stopped. “They’re out of beds, too,” Cunningham said.
There is no vaccine against RSV yet, but there are vaccinations against flu and COVID-19. Health officials say flu vaccination rates for both children and adults have fallen compared to pre-pandemic levels, although the number of children rose last year.