Surge in respiratory illnesses overwhelms nation’s hospitals


(NewsNation) — Hospitals across the nation are struggling to maintain enough space for their patients, and some report being over capacity amid increasing strain due to a surge in respiratory illnesses and hospitalizations.

Almost 80% of all inpatient beds are occupied nationwide, according to multiple reports citing data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Furthermore, the data shows more than 78% of all intensive care unit beds nationwide are occupied.

The data shows it’s much more than COVID-19 cases filling hospital beds.

Of all the available hospital beds nationwide, only 5.5% of inpatient beds and 5.67% of ICU beds are in use for COVID-19 patients, according to the data.

Health officials are warning of a “tridemic” or “triple threat” of flu, RSV and COVID-19 across the country.

Seattle Children’s Hospital is just one health center among many across the country facing severe challenges ahead of the holidays.

The Seattle area is weighing the return of a mask mandate to help contain the spread of the surge in respiratory viruses.

“We are in crisis mode. I don’t know if we’re at disaster yet, but we’re close to it.” said Dr. Tony Woodward, medical director of emergency medicine and chief of the Emergency Medicine Division at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It’s an overwhelming combination of RSV virus, influenza, and now COVID is reaching back out again. And that’s on top of all the other complex and chronic conditions that we see on a daily basis.”

Woodward said they are currently at about 200% over capacity.

“We’ve peaked at 300%,” Woodward said. “And that’s really challenging. Our really sick patients will get seen immediately, and they’ll get the interventions they need. But the patients who were a little bit less ill but still need to be seen have a longer wait.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the flu and RSV are also hitting Southern California hard, sending a record-high number of patients in a single day to the emergency room.

In a Q&A with ABC News, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned a surge in illnesses is pushing medical facilities to the brink.

“Hospitals are filling up, children’s hospitals in particular,” Murthy told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal influenza activity is high across the country.

U.S. flu hospitalizations last week nearly doubled from the week prior, according to the CDC

The CDC estimates that, so far this season, there have been at least 13 million illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations, and 7,300 deaths from flu.

As a result of the surge in illnesses, Seattle Children’s Hospital set up a mobile unit outside the hospital to handle patient overflow.

Other hospitals have made extra room in offices and parking lot tents.

“We do use a lot of ancillary spaces,” Dr. Woodward said, “including hallways, storerooms, lobbies. We built an extra lobby, an elevator lobby, to see patients, and we have a tent outside that we use on occasion to either take care of overflow or especially contagious patients.”

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