Respiratory syncytial virus, otherwise known as RSV, causes colds and lung infections in people of all ages. This year, it’s been the biggest driver of increased hospital volume at the local children’s hospital. “It’s never been like this before,” said Emilee Lamorena, a respiratory program director who also leads pediatric issues at the American Association for Respiratory Care. “It’s all hands on deck.”
Managers and educators — clinicians who now mostly do administrative work — “have been jumping into the bedside,” she said. And the hospital is “getting creative” with its emergency department spaces, converting areas formerly reserved for evaluating mildly ill kids into beds that can be used to treat sicker children.
Similar stories are unfolding all over the US, where seasonal RSV infections shot up earlier and much higher than usual this year. And instead of rolling across the country in a sequence of regional waves, cases exploded everywhere seemingly simultaneously.
The surge of multiple respiratory viruses at once is scary. Perhaps scarier: The onslaught of sick children is catching the US on its heels following health care staffing shortages that started well before the Covid-19 pandemic but have since accelerated.
Thirty percent of health care workers quit or were laid off during the pandemic, and nearly one-third of recently surveyed nurses said they planned to leave direct patient care jobs by the end of this year.