Triangle children’s hospitals already near or over capacity as RSV and COVID-19 surge

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Some children’s hospitals in the Triangle are running out of room.

WakeMed Children’s and UNC Children’s have both been near or over capacity for the past couple of weeks — and it’s not just COVID-19 that’s making kids sick.

Both WakeMed and UNC doctors say they’re seeing more children sick with the coronavirus than they did just a couple of months ago, but it’s the respiratory virus RSV that’s really filling up their hospitals.

WakeMed Children’s has about 50 patients in the hospital every day, so many doctors sometimes have to care for them wherever they can.

“Some of the kids In the children’s emergency department are kids who are technically admitted to the hospital,” said Dr. Karen Chilton, chief medical officer for WakeMed Children’s. “And we are caring for them out of an ED [emergency department] room or off of a stretcher in the hallway, as the case may be sometimes, in order to get them the care they need.”

Chilton says more than half of the children at WakeMed Children’s have RSV.

“We have an extraordinary number of RSV and other respiratory viral illnesses in the community at this point in time that we normally do not have during this point in the summer,” she said.

Dr. Benny Joyner, division chief of pediatric critical care medicine at UNC Children’s, says the hospital has more than a dozen children hospitalized with RSV.

“We are seeing a great deal of severe RSV, intubated RSV, and kids requiring extreme therapy for RSV,” Joyner said.

Doctors are also seeing more children with COVID-19 than they did earlier in the summer.

“Over the past probably three to four weeks, we’ve seen a substantial uptick,” said Joyner. “Children are coming in now with respiratory distress requiring significant oxygen and really just laboring and really feeling like it’s difficult to breathe,” Joyner said, adding that UNC Children’s has seen COVID-19 patients from toddlers to teenagers.

With so many viruses circulating, he says he’s concerned about hospital capacity when many children go back to school.

“To be honest, the next several weeks are really worrisome for us,” Joyner said. He says the hospital is making contingency plans if they have more patients than they have beds.

While hospitals plan for the possibility of even more patients, they’re working constantly to care for the ones they have.

“All those folks that are absolutely crucial to taking appropriate care of these kiddos are really working around the clock,” said Chilton. “We are doing our best to keep up with it for now.”

Doctors said that for children heading back to school, masks are vital tools to help stop the spread of COVID-19 as well as other respiratory viruses like RSV.

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