PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Hasbro Children’s Hospital is continuing to operate at over 100% capacity within its hospital and emergency department, according to hospital leaders.
Dr. Frank Overly, medical director for pediatric emergency medicine at Hasbro, told 12 News that while there are variables with wait times, they are currently “unprecedented.”
“In the past several days, we have had wait times up to 9 or 10 hours for patients that have lower acuity issues,” Overly said.
“Our goal is always if you come in and you have a serious illness to try to get you seen as soon as possible,” he added. “But I will say that the past couple of days, we’ve even been challenged to do that, just with the volume of patients that are coming in and some patients being quite ill.”
In response to several respiratory viruses circulating early this season, the R.I. Department of Health is reminding Rhode Islanders about simple prevention measures.
One of the illnesses that’s peaked early is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, with most people recovering in one to two weeks. For infants or young children, especially those with chronic illnesses, the virus can be more severe and lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
Additionally, some adults are at higher risk, including people older than 65, adults with chronic heart or lung disease, and adults with weakened immune systems.
Last month, Dr. Michael Koster, director of Hasbro’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, told 12 News the hospital saw the number of RSV infections double from mid-September to mid-October.
Dr. Utpala Bandy, the state’s interim health director, stated in a news release on Thursday that even though RSV is a common annual virus, cases have indeed been reported earlier than usual, and more virus has been circulating in the community.
Health officials note the current increase in RSV cases may be due to lower levels of immunity in the community, resulting from the prevention measures that were taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, like social distancing and wearing masks.
“We’re seeing that RSV is actually spiking now, and it’s actually about twice as high as we’ve seen in past years,” Dr. Philip Chan of the health department said.
Lower levels of immunity in the community may also result in a more severe flu season, the health department added.
Cases of RSV in Rhode Island usually peak in early January, according to the health department, but cases are currently at around double what is seen during a typical January peak. Chan said he suspects RSV may hit its peak as early as this week.
“I’ve said this before about COVID, but especially with these trends, you know what goes up does come down,” he added. “So I’m optimistic that we will start seeing a slowing down, especially of children hospitalizations in the next week or two here.”
In addition to RSV, the health department reports the flu is also beginning to circulate, which typically lasts through spring. Chan said this year’s flu shot is estimated to be about 50% effective.
While COVID-19 rates are currently lower than in previous years, health department data shows more than 100 people are currently hospitalized with the disease. Chan said that while some severe illness is expected, he still considers that a “significant” number of hospitalizations.
Over the past four weeks, data shows in about 26% of hospitalizations, COVID-19 was a primary cause, while the virus was regarded as a contributing cause in about 31% of hospitalizations. COVID-19 was not a cause in the remaining 42% of hospitalizations.
Weekly COVID-19 trends are updated weekly on Thursdays and reflect data from the previous Sunday to Saturday.
The health department said as people begin to spend more time indoors due to colder temperatures, cases are expected to increase in the coming weeks and months.
“The good news is that many of the prevention measures that help prevent the spread of the flu and COVID-19 also help prevent the spread of RSV,” Bandy noted.
According to Bandy, simple measures like hand-washing and staying home from school or work when sick are steps everyone can take, but they’re especially important for kids and people who may be in regular contact with school-age children, older adults, and people with underlying health conditions.
The health department said prevention measures everyone should take include:
- Getting a flu shot: Everyone older than six months of age should be vaccinated every year. For information on where to get a flu shot, see health.ri.gov/flu.
- Being up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations: For many people, the health department says this means getting a booster dose. For information on how to get vaccinated against COVID-19, see C19vaccineRI.org.
- Coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
- Washing your hands often with soap and water.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, work, and school.
- Staying home if sick.
- Keeping children home from daycare or school who have a fever, especially with a cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, congestion, runny nose, or sore throat, until they are fever-free for 24 hours without medications that reduce fever.
- Contacting your pediatrician or health care provider if you believe your child needs medical care. The provider can offer advice on whether your child needs to be evaluated in person, tested for COVID or flu, and the best location (doctor’s office, urgent care, emergency room) for care.
Though mask-wearing was not listed in the health department’s press release, Chan said health officials are still asking people to consider doing so, especially in crowded indoor settings.
The health department is also reminding Rhode Islanders about the right places to seek care, in an effort to prevent hospitals from overcrowding.
“Hospital emergency departments in Rhode Island are currently very crowded. Children and adults in emergency departments with less serious health issues are experiencing long wait times,” the health department’s release stated.
“What we’re seeing with COVID and RSV and the flu is this triple epidemic of respiratory viruses that is just really overwhelming our health system,” Chan added.
Health officials stress that those who do not need emergency care should not be going to the emergency department, since long waits can expose people to new sicknesses.
The health department said many health issues can be treated more quickly and effectively by a primary care provider, in an urgent care facility or health center, including:
- Back pain
- Minor cuts
- Sore throat
- Low-grade fevers
- Most cases of norovirus (sometimes called “the stomach flu”)
Some health issues that would require emergency medical attention include:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain
- New difficulty speaking or confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Heavy bleeding
- Deep wounds
- Serious burns
- Possible broken bones (especially if the bone is pushing through the skin)
- Severe allergic reactions.