Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order deploying volunteer healthcare professionals, designating emergency health care centers and freeing up state employees to respond to a surge of respiratory viral infections, namely the respiratory syncytial virus. Since the start of RSV season in late October the pediatric hospitalization rate in the state has more than tripled to 7.6 hospitalizations per 100,000 children and is expected to peak at 9.5 per 100,000.
- Courtesy CDC
- This graph shows the uptide in hospitalizations related to respiratory illnesses.
Only three hospitals in the state have pediatric ICU beds — Oregon Health and Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Providence St. Vincent Hospital and Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel. Brown said the executive action will help hospital take care of sick children.
"As the country faces a surge in pediatric RSV cases, we want to make sure Oregon's hospitals have access to the tools they need to provide care for sick kids. For parents, please know you can take steps to reduce the risk of RSV, including practicing the good health and hygiene habits we've learned over the past few years," Brown stated in a press release.
Health care officials remind people to stay up to date on flu and COVID vaccinations, keep children home when sick and practice good hygiene. They also said they're expecting the trend of high hospitalizations to continue for the next couple months.
"It's important for parents to remember that while this respiratory season is severe, there are key steps families can take to protect their young children," said Dr. Jim McCord, interim chief medical officer for Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in a press release.
The Oregon Nurses Association said it supports the governor's executive order but also criticized the Oregon Health Authority for not being more proactive in implementing public health interventions.
"The RSV crisis did not happen suddenly. In fact, it has been building over the past weeks and months. Yet we have not seen robust public health interventions that would have mitigated this crisis and prevented more Oregonians from getting sick, including public health campaigns focused on parents and schools asking them to keep children home if they are sick or show signs of illness," the ONA said in a press release. "Other actions, such as encouraging mask use, handwashing, and practicing social distancing could have helped reduce the impact of this surge in RSV cases."
ONA also drew attention to the staffing shortage in the nursing field due to, "failures by hospital systems to invest in staff" and the pressure of three years of COVID. ONA called on health systems to incentivize nurses to work extra shifts, relieve nurses of non-nursing duties and delay elective surgeries to free up resources.
"It is unreasonable to, yet again, expect frontline nurses and other caregivers to respond to this crisis without additional support from hospitals," ONA said. "Given that this is only the beginning of what is likely to be a 12-week-long surge, ONA urges all Oregonians to take all steps necessary to protect themselves, and their children, from exposure to RSV, COVID-19 and the seasonal flu."
RSV typically sends about 60,000 children to the hospital each year but usually only results in mild cold-like symptoms in adults, and the CDC estimates only about 1-2% of cases lead to hospitalization. In 2022 infections rose earlier than in previous years and more cases have been detected in each week of October than any week in the past two years. The pre-pandemic hospitalization rate hovered around 0.4 per 100,000 for all ages, but this year has surpassed 3 per 100,000. The shift in seasonality could've been caused by the public health measures like social distancing since 2020