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Hospitals, medical staff strain as RSV and influenza overwhelm Yakima County | Local

Confirmed RSV and flu cases in Yakima County hospitals have been doubling and in some cases tripling almost every week in the past two months. While these diseases are common, pre-existing staffing and capacity issues have left hospitals with little room to accommodate the influx of patients seeking care.

RSV, a virus that attacks the body’s respiratory system, can be particularly dangerous for young children. The disease, which causes inflammation of the airways, can prevent young children from breathing in enough oxygen. While this is rare and most children will have RSV before they turn 2 without even knowing, in some cases the disease can be fatal.

Administrators at Yakima Valley Memorial and Astria Toppenish Hospital are urging parents and other residents of Yakima County to visit the hospital only when cases seem severe.

Dr. Raul Garcia, medical director at Astria Toppenish, said the current situation is similar to the early days of COVID in that people should only be visiting a hospital’s ER in the case of an emergency.

“I believe that we have a really bad crisis through the whole state as far as staffing is concerned and any increase in visits is going to affect that, so it is an issue,” Garcia said. “We have just a certain amount of workforce and we don’t want to overwhelm the workforce if we don’t need to. The situation now is very similar to the start of the pandemic.

“Our workforce is smaller than before the pandemic, so we have to try and not put further strain on it.”

Garcia said when it comes to RSV, the best thing parents can do is be familiar with the signs of a worsening sickness.

“The most significant thing is to give the power of knowledge to the parents,” Garcia said. “We need awareness out there. We need the parents to be aware that this is a serious virus even if most of the cases self-resolve within one to two weeks. There are steps at home they should take to help us out.”

He said that parents with premature infants or children with lung conditions should be most cautious.

Garcia said there are two main symptoms parents should be looking for when it comes to determining if a child should be taken to the ER.

“One, they can’t breathe and two, they’re dehydrated,” Garcia said. “Parents should be making sure parents look out for these signs and make sure their kids stay hydrated. If they do get to that point, we will be here to treat those kids.”

Dr. Tanny Davenport, vice president physician executive at Memorial, said the number of cases seen in October and November this year is higher than late December and early January of past years. The end of the year is usually when case numbers peak.

Last year during the second week of November, 32 cases of RSV and one case of the flu were reported in the county. During that same week this year, 84 cases of RSV and 63 cases of the flu were reported. Davenport said this has put a significant strain on Memorial’s ER.

“We’ve definitely had an influx of RSV and flu-related cases in the last few weeks,” Davenport said. “Even in September, we were getting cases, which is out of the ordinary for both viruses. We are here to help as many people as possible but we have a limited staff. Right now we are just trying to save beds for those who absolutely need it.”

Both hospital administrators said they have been using their ERs to tend to RSV and flu cases in times of overflow. If necessary, patients will be transported to other hospitals in the state, though many of these hospitals are facing similar capacity issues.

Much like with COVID-19, Davenport recommended people wear masks when interacting with large groups. For parents of young children, Davenport recommended keeping their kids away from sick family members or friends during the holidays.

“Whatever we can do to decrease the spread whether it be of RSV, influenza or COVID, the better off we are as a community,” Davenport said.


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