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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Hospitals struggle with staffing as COVID, flu and RSV keeps hitting

You are not alone if you feel like everyone you know is ill with COVID-19, the flu, or another virus.

Dr. Mark Sannes, co-executive medical director of HealthPartners, said, “Without a doubt, the incidence of respiratory infections is considerable across the board.” “We are experiencing an earlier season than usual. It hasn’t been a serious disease, but there’s no doubt there’s been a lot of it.”

COVID-19 hasn’t gone away. In addition, Minnesota has been dealing with high rates of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in children since the summer, and the flu season has gotten off to an early start by conventional standards.

As a consequence, hospitals are busy, emergency department wait times are lengthy, and health authorities are once again advising citizens to do all possible to keep well and safeguard their families as the Christmas season approaches.

For most of the previous several months, about 95 percent of Minnesota’s approximately 585 pediatric and 7,650 adult hospital beds have been occupied. Staffing limitations make it difficult to add additional beds to an already overburdened system, and health authorities want to prevent the soaring demand that overwhelmed hospitals at the beginning of the year.

The state epidemiologist, Dr. Ruth Lynfield, expressed concern over hospital capacity, particularly in pediatrics, where space is very limited. Therefore, we must do all possible to defend one another.

Lynfield and other health experts are urging Minnesotans, once again, to be vaccinated, get checked if they have symptoms, and stay home if they are ill.

Transmission rates

It is difficult to determine the current prevalence of COVID-19 in Minnesota communities since so many individuals are testing at home and not reporting their findings to state authorities. The Minnesota Department of Health continues to register around 750 illnesses every day, or approximately 5,250 per week.

Testing has mostly been superseded by the quantity of coronavirus genetic material in the wastewater and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. In recent weeks, the quantity of COVID in sewage in the Twin Cities has been relatively stable, and coronavirus hospitalizations have plateaued at about 500 persons.

Minnesota monitors influenza and RSV separately, and state statistics indicate that both traditionally seasonal infections have reached epidemic proportions across the state.

Last week, about 25% of influenza tests were positive, with Influenza A being the predominant type. There were outbreaks in 324 schools and six long-term care homes.

There have already been 439 flu-related hospitalizations, which is about half of the total number of cases recorded last season, a surge that occurs weeks earlier than usual. As a result of coronavirus mitigation efforts, influenza rates were very low during the pandemic, although hospitalizations over the three flu seasons before COVID-19 ranged from 2,500 to over 6,400.

RSV is considerably more frequent, with around 46% of fast testing returning positive results. The great majority of hospitalized RSV patients are youngsters under the age of 4, although the virus may also infect high-risk older adults.

Dr. Kari Schneider, a pediatric emergency care physician at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, said that influenza and RSV are more likely to affect younger children than COVID-19. More than two years of pandemic restrictions reduced the viral exposure of many children, and they are now acquiring extremely dangerous illnesses at school and daycare.

“I believe that many parents forget what it is like for their children to be unwell,” Schneider said, adding that emergency rooms and clinics are full of anxious parents. She suggests attempting a telemedicine appointment or a visit with a primary care physician before visiting a clinic or emergency room.

Schneider stated that youngsters who are struggling to breathe or exhibiting indications of dehydration are likely in need of medical attention.

Implications for hospitals

To improve efficiency, Minnesota’s hospital system was built to reduce the number of unoccupied beds. A normally finely balanced system has been thrown off by chronic personnel shortages, which have left one in five hospital roles vacant.

According to Laura Myers, a nurse at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul who has been there since the late 1980s, this has led to waiting times of several hours in certain emergency departments. Myers spoke at a Minnesota Nurses Association gathering on Thursday, when union officials revealed intentions to take a strike authorization ballot on November 30 to get salary raises, additional staff, and improved safety precautions.

In a follow-up interview, Myers said, “The number of children we see in our emergency room has continuously increased.” The incoming children are much, significantly sicker than in past years.

Schneider, from Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, said that the emergency department is not a “first-come, first-served” institution. “We prioritize the sickest people,” she said.

Sannes, co-executive director of health at HealthPartners, said that pediatric hospitals had been among the most impacted by the unusually protracted RSV pandemic. During the summer in the Southern Hemisphere, infection levels reverted to pre-pandemic levels or were even greater, as shown by the fact that flu cases are mimicking this phenomenon.

Sannes said, “We are approaching a high that we have not seen since 2018.” Even while the sickness has not been particularly severe, he emphasized that the virus is spreading quickly since most pandemic precautions have expired.

Sannes said that COVID-19 has not been as severe as expected so far this autumn. He feels that immunizations and exposure rates have contributed to the controllable number of critically unwell coronavirus patients.

How to remain safe

Good hygiene is the first line of protection against all respiratory infections, which are often transmitted by droplets when an individual coughs, sneezes or speaks. Regular hand washing, concealing coughs and sneezes and staying home when unwell go a long way towards preventing the spread of disease.

Masks, social distancing, and crowd avoidance, according to Lynfield, continue to slow the spread of respiratory diseases and can be used to protect the most vulnerable.

Vaccines, including those for COVID-19 and influenza, will prevent the majority of individuals from being hospitalized. Only 17 percent of Minnesotans are current on their COVID vaccinations, according to Lynfield.

Lynfield concludes by noting that antiviral medications for influenza and COVID-19 remain widely accessible. They are most effective when administered early, therefore testing at the first indication of symptoms and consulting a medical professional are essential.

“Everyone cannot wait to see one another in person. “It has been quite some time,” Lynfield said. “We must keep in mind that several viruses are circulating at the moment. Consider who you are assembling with. Ensure that you are fully prepared, meaning that you have had your vaccinations and are up-to-date, before entering.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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