Orange County Public Health Officials have declared an emergency Monday over RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, as pediatric hospitals fill up.

“We do have a large number of RSV-infected children in the hospital right now, much more than we would normally have at this time of year. Today, we have 65 in house  – 11 of whom are in the ICU,” said Dr. Jasjit Singh, a pediatric infectious diseases subspecialist and medical director for Children’s Hospital Orange County (CHOC), at a Tuesday news conference.

Dr. Melanine Patterson, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer for CHOC, said there has been a surge of patients at the two CHOC hospitals in the county since mid-August and that CHOC Mission is pretty close, if not over, their bed capacity.

Patterson said that in CHOC Orange, medical staff have seen more than 400 patients almost every day for the past two weeks.

“If you walk through the lobby, you will see sick sick kids,” she said. “We are very, very close to capacity, if not over capacity, at CHOC Orange.”

“We have a lot of patients on high flow and on oxygen throughout the hospital.”

RSV is a common respiratory virus that is the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in children under the age of 1 in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

On Saturday, Orange County public health officials in a news release strongly encouraged residents to take preventative measures against RSV due to the high rate of pediatric hospitalizations and emergency room visits for respiratory infections.

“What we learned late last week and into the weekend is that both CHOC locations have been operating at or beyond their capacity to care for pediatrics with respiratory illness,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, Orange County health officer at a Tuesday news conference.

“Our concern here is that it is reaching even record levels then from earlier in the year and we have not even seen the beginning of our flu surge.”

Chinsio-Kwong said an emergency has been declared to increase awareness and for hospitals to prepare. The emergency declaration would allow Chinsio-Kwong to require hospitals that don’t typically care for pediatric patients to do so if needed.

“People are not realizing how impacted our two children’s hospitals are and hopefully from this call, you’re really hearing that it’s going to be a long while if you’re going to go to a local ER and your child is in need of immediate attention,” she said.

Chinsio-Kwong said the emergency declaration will also allow for additional staffing support.

Preventative measures for RSV are similar to COVID-19: masking when indoors or in large group settings, washing hands frequently, getting flu shots and COVID shots, as well as avoiding close contact like hugging people who are sick.

Public health officials also warn people not to go to school or work when feeling sick.

Symptoms for RSV include fever, cough, wheezing and runny nose. Children may also be irritable, lethargic and have no fever, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The emergency in Orange County comes as the Coronavirus continues to spread and the flu season starts.

And public health experts have warned of a COVID winter surge.

[Read: While Monkeypox Slowly Increases in Orange County, Experts Worry Possible COVID Wave Looms]

As of Tuesday, Orange County’s COVID positivity rate was 4.9%, according to state data.

And there were 105 OC residents hospitalized for COVID, including 14 in intensive care units, according to state data. 

COVID has now killed 7,518 OC residents since the pandemic kicked off in March 2020, according to the OC Health Care Agency.

When asked if the County’s pediatric hospitals will have to use outdoor tents because of the RSV surge, Patterson said it’s always something that is discussed when the hospitals face a surge.

“At this point, we are not,” she said.

“We certainly have plans together if we need to do that. But it doesn’t look like we will need to do that.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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