Spread Of Flu And COVID Skyrockets In CA As Hospital Capacity Strains

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Hospitals are seeing a spike over last year in the number of patients with respiratory illnesses including flu, COVID and RSV.

Rachel Barnes | Contributor

If it seems like everyone you know is getting sick, it’s because California is experiencing a full-fledged ‘tridemic’ with influenza, COVID-19 and RSV simultaneously circulating at high rates. California’s flu season is in full swing, and the spread of respiratory illness in the state is listed as very high by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials at the California Department of Public Health said the high levels have the potential to add to,”an already concerning number of hospitalizations of children due to the spread of winter viruses.” Respiratory illness hospitalizations are up by about one-third over the same time last year, Dr. Ali Jamehdor at Dignity Health told KTLA. “This year, more than any other year, we are seeing more of influenza, RSV and COVID, higher than what we’ve seen in years past,” Jamehdor added.

While flu activity is very high, adult cases of RSV have been elevated and COVID is spiking as well, he said. “COVID is back,” he told the outlet. “People are having pneumonia from it, shortness of breath, and we’ve admitted more patients with pneumonia due to the COVID virus.” The spike in cases, pushed Los Angeles County back into the CDC’s moderate category for the spread of COVID, bringing about the return of mask mandates at medical facilities Saturday.

Six children died of flu in December across the country, bringing the season’s total to 20. California reported its first pediatric flu death this month, a child younger than 5 who was pronounced dead at a hospital in the Coachella Valley.

The child tested positive for influenza A and did not have any underlying health conditions, according to Riverside University Health System-Public Health. Hospitals across the state are reporting the number of children who need hospitalization is currently outpacing their ability to accommodate incoming patients. The availability of pediatric intensive care unit beds is typically about 35 to 40 percent, but it is down to about 20 percent currently, the health department said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Hospitals are seeing a spike over last year in the number of patients with respiratory illnesses including flu, COVID and RSV. | Courtesy graphic of California Department of Public Health

The state has seen 81 influenza deaths as of mid-December, the most recent reporting period. The majority, 62, have been people 65 or older, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. “RSV and Flu, and now COVID-19, are on the rise – leading to the hospitalization of our youngest and most vulnerable Californians who need all of us to help protect them.

So we’re reminding Californians about the effective mitigation and safety measures they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones, including getting the Flu shot, keeping up to date with their COVID-19 booster, and masking in indoor public places,” said State Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón.

The flu spike comes as both hospitalizations for COVID-19 and COVID deaths rose over 3 percent nationally during the week ending Dec. 23, for which the most recent data was available. More than 29,000 people were hospitalized that week. The CDC estimates that there have been at least 7.1 million illnesses, 73,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu so far this season nationally.

RSV cases have steadily climbed nationally as well, rapidly increasing since mid-September and peaking in late November and into early December. California health officials say RSV activity remains elevated in the state, though the positivity rate dropped in the week ending Dec. 23. Thirty-three RSV deaths have been recorded in the state so far this year, 27 of which were people 65 or older, according to CDPH data.

CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen released a video declaring “Virus season is here!” RSV is elevated in the United States, while flu continues to increase and COVID-19 starts to increase, she said. The country is also seeing rising cases of pneumonia. “We’re seeing more respiratory illnesses and pneumonias in the United States and around the world,” Cohen said. “But right now we’re not seeing anything new or unfamiliar in terms of virus or sickness.” Cohen recommended people protect themselves and their families from sickness by getting updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and RSV vaccines for people over 60 years old.

She also recommended that people take additional precautions, such as avoiding people who are sick, washing hands, improving ventilation and wearing a mask. Those who are sick ought to stay home, get tested and seek treatment.

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