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A nurse cares for a young patient with RSV

An intensive care nurse cares for a patient suffering from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) who is being ventilated in the children's intensive care unit of the Olgahospital in Stuttgart, Germany on November 25, 2021. Hospitals in the U.S. are reporting a surge in RSV cases. (Photo: Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Children's Hospitals Call on Biden to Declare Emergency Amid 'Alarming Surge' of RSV

Seventeen states are reporting that more than 80% of their pediatric hospital beds are full, while seven states are near capacity.

Julia Conley

Pediatric health experts are sounding alarms regarding a surge in respiratory viruses among children, with more than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds now full as respiratory syncytial virus cases hit more than double the number of infants who were affected last year.

In a letter to President Joe Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra American Academy earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association (CHA) called on the administration to declare a public health emergency, which would give hospitals flexibility to free up beds.

The White House signaled that it would not declare an emergency, only saying Thursday that officials were "ready to provide assistance to communities who are in need of help on a case-by-case basis."

On Monday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order declaring a statewide emergency because the state's "pediatric hospitalization rate has more than tripled, and is likely to exceed its previously recorded weekly hospitalization rate imminently."

"Our level of concern has been elevated to the point at which we are compelled to share and recommend mitigation measures that can help to prevent illness."

Brown is deploying volunteer medical teams to help hospitals cope with the surge in RSV cases, even as hospitals in several other states were even more overwhelmed with cases this week.

Children's hospitals in Arizona, Washington, D.C., Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Kentucky, and Utah are nearing capacity, and 17 states are reporting that more than 80% of their pediatric hospital beds are full, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 171 out of every 100,000 infants younger than six months were hospitalized for RSV, which is common but can be dangerous for babies in that age group, for the week ending November 12. The current hospitalization rate is more than double the 2021 rate, and more than seven times the rate in 2018.

Dr. Jose Romero, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told CNBC that the surge in cases has partially been caused by the abandonment of public health measures including masking and social distancing.

The CDC is advising people to take precautions including getting vaccinated against the flu and Covid-19, frequent hand-washing, avoiding close contact including handshakes and sharing cups and eating utensils with others, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces, while three Massachusetts health organizations on Thursday advised people to consider masking in crowded indoor places while the surge continues.

"Anyone gathering in crowded indoor spaces, including children who are symptomatic, should consider wearing a mask," said Massachusetts Medical Society president Ted Calianos, Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians president Emily Chin, and American Academy of Pediatrics Massachusetts Chapter president Mary Beth Miotto in a statement.

"Our level of concern has been elevated to the point at which we are compelled to share and recommend mitigation measures that can help to prevent illness," they added. "This will not only lessen the burden on our over-stressed healthcare system, which is especially important as we approach the holiday season, but will also reduce interruptions to in-person learning and other children's activities that can result from outbreaks caused by viral infections."


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