Triangle doctors urge families to take safety seriously as school starts with multiple viruses circulating

COVID-19 and schools

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As kids head back to school this week, doctors are urging parents to make sure children know how to wear their masks properly and to keep them home if they show any symptoms of illness.

Often, the summer offers a break from many of the viruses that make children sick, but not this year.

Triangle children’s hospitals are filling up and multiple viruses are circulating in our community including COVID-19 and RSV, a respiratory virus that usually affects children in the fall and winter months.

Jennifer Ruiz says her 2-year-old son got sick back on Aug. 6.

“They called me and told me he tested positive for both COVID, and RSV,” she said. “It was the scariest thought, ‘Oh my goodness, am I going to have to bring my kid to the hospital?”

Ruiz says her son was sick for more than two weeks and at one point she did take him to the hospital. He didn’t need to be admitted, but doctors at WakeMed and UNC children’s hospitals say they’ve admitted many kids with severe RSV.

“We have just a really high number of RSV cases and a lot of younger children hospitalized right now with RSV, and that’s what’s stretching our capacity in the pediatric world,” explained Dr. Karen Chilton, chief medical officer with WakeMed Children’s Hospital.

Doctors say they’re also seeing more children with COVID-19 than they did earlier this summer.

“The level of ICU occupancy with COVID patients is very similar to what we experienced in the winter surge that we had,” noted Dr. Benny Joyner, division chief of pediatric critical care medicine at UNC. “With the relaxation of mask-wearing and mask mandates, what’s happened is all the other childhood viruses and childhood illnesses we’ve seen are really starting to come to the fore again.”

With multiple viruses going around as kids head back to school, children’s hospitals – some of which are already near or over capacity – are preparing for the possibility of even more patients.

“The next several weeks are really worrisome for us,” said Joyner. “We started some contingency planning just making sure we have the appropriate resources.”

Doctors are also asking families to do everything they can to keep children healthy as they return to the classroom. That means making sure children know how to wear their masks properly: over their noses, mouths, and chins.

It also means and keeping children home if they show any symptoms, even if it seems they have nothing more than a simple cold.

With multiple viruses circulating, some with similar symptoms, it can be hard to tell the difference among them.

“If your child has a cough or cold, please, please, please don’t send them to school,” implored Joyner. “The consequences are just so high, and I think so great. If your child has a cough, cold, runny nose, fever, please keep them home — get them tested.”

Ruiz’s older children are getting ready to head back to school, and they know all about safety precautions.

“All the rules: wear the mask, sanitize, and all that,” she said, adding that her 2-year-old is finally feeling better.

When he went to the hospital about 10 days into his illness, she says he tested negative for COVID-19, but still positive for RSV. As of last week, WakeMed officials said about half of the patients in their children’s hospital were there for RSV-related issues.

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