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Nurses respond amid flu, RSV surge ahead of winter

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Delaware health officials are starting to see signs of rises in the flu, which could complicate winter, a time when COVID-19 historically spikes. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CDC

WILMINGTON — With winter coming and a virus appearing earlier this year, Delaware health care officials have put out the call for pediatric nurses to lend a helping hand at hospitals.

Last week, the Delaware Healthcare Association (DEHA) sent out a message to all registered nurses in the state with inpatient experience to assist at hospitals, as they face an influx of respiratory illnesses. The message was sent out by Delaware by the Division of Professional Regulation on Nov. 9. 

As of Tuesday, 215 nurses have signed up to provide support to hospitals at this time, according to DEHA spokeswoman Christina Crooks Bryan.

“We took a shot to appeal to licensed nurses with pediatric experience, and the response has been fantastic to see those willing to lend a hand during this time,” DEHA President and CEO Wayne Smith told the Delaware Business Times.

As historically seen since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the virus tends to spike in the winter months with people gathering more indoors than in the summer months, straining health care systems in the state.

Last winter, Delaware saw the peak of its surge at 759 people in the hospital from COVID-19 on Jan. 12, 2022. The year before that, the peak was 474 hospitalizations. 

The state reports a seven-day average of 131 COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 10, although that may be higher due to people self-testing at home. There are 86 people hospitalized, and 10 of those are critical.

But this time, Delaware health officials are reporting dramatic increases in the flu – and concerns are mounting with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) appearing in hospitals as early as the spring.

RSV is a common virus that affects primarily children under the age of 2 in the winter, and usually has cold-like symptoms. But it can also cause difficulty in breathing for infants and older adults. 

“We see pretty severe cases in children under two because their airwaves are smaller and so as there’s inflammation caused by this virus, they can actually have significant breathing issues that will result in hospitalizations,” ChristianaCare Associate Clinical Director of Complex Primary Care and Community Medicine Dr. Priscilla Mpasi said during a press conference on Monday.

As of Nov. 5, the state has recorded 505 cases of RSV, with 104 of those cases reported in the last week.

Meanwhile, flu cases are rapidly increasing with 772 flu cases this season reported on Nov. 5, with 20 resulting in hospitalizations. About 483 of those flu cases were recorded in the span of a week.

“The last two winters have been dominated by COVID-19, and this is the first winter we’re really starting to see the flu roaring back with a level of intensity,” Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services Molly Magarik said during the press conference.

Nemours Children’s Health, the leading pediatric facility in the state, has continued to see an influx in RSV, but the flu is now starting to rise in its facilities as well. Nemours spokeswoman Jennifer Reardon advocates parents to get their children vaccinated for both COVID and the flu as soon as possible.

The health care system is also “prepared for all possible scenarios,” which includes increasing appointments for telemedicine as well as expanding the pool of nurses.

“Nemours is extremely thankful to the nurses who have responded to the call and offered their talents during this time, as well as the [DEHA] for helping to coordinate the request on behalf of hospitals,” Reardon told DBT. “Nemours will continue to work collaboratively with partners, the community, and other hospitals to meet the needs of our children and families.  

Gov. John Carney stressed that based on the last two years, Delawareans need to continue practicing familiar protections: masking up in crowded spaces, staying home when sick and receiving a flu or COVID-19 shot. 

The COVID-19 Bivalent booster — targeted for the most recent variants — are available to those who have finished their first rounds of the shots at least two months ago or three months after getting COVID.

These illnesses have also put a tremendous strain on Delaware’s hospitals and health care workers during peak season, and Carney acknowledged it continues to be a major strain on the workforce.

“It’s a huge issue, not just in health care, but in every business sector we have. It is the biggest reason that we’re still in a public health emergency: there are certain things that we can do with respect to licensing to enable nurses and others to work with various populations,” Carney said. “When you talk about hospital capacity, more than anything it comes down to [workforce].”

For the first time, DPH has launched a flu tracker, similar to the COVID-19 tracker. It can be found at https://bit.ly/3TDZIxz.

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