Utah children’s hospital is ‘full to the brim,’ but not turning away patients

The “terrible triangle” of RSV, influenza and COVID-19 is “one more straw on this already overloaded camel’s back,” Dr. Andrew Pavia said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. The hospital is "full to the brim" with young patients amid a surge in young patients with RSV, officials said.

Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City is “full to the brim” with young patients, according to Dr. Andrew Pavia, a pediatric infectious diseases expert with University of Utah Health and Primary Children’s.

Hospital administrators said Monday that the Intermountain facility has been at or near capacity “for several consecutive days.”

The combination of RSV and influenza is “really stretching the ability to find hospital beds for patients, to find nurses to take care of them,” Pavia said in a recorded interview Friday with hospital spokesperson Jennifer Toomer-Cook.

RSV, or “respiratory syncytial” virus, is a common respiratory virus. It typically causes mild cold-like symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in children younger than 1, RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia as well as bronchiolitis, or inflammation of the small airways.

The current “terrible triangle” of RSV, influenza and COVID-19 is “one more straw on this already overloaded camel’s back,” Pavia added. Local health officials warned of this potential “triple-demic” last month.

The latest “influx” of young patients with RSV began recently, with administrators at the children’s hospital noting that patient volumes right now are exceeding typical winter surge levels.

The Salt Lake City School District on Monday afternoon also sent a memo to parents and families that noted — amid typical cold and flu season — “we are also seeing an uptick in cases of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses in our community.” The memo advised parents and guardians to “keep your child at home if they are showing symptoms of illness.”

Primary Children’s is not turning patients away, a hospital spokesperson said. But administrators said Monday that officials have delayed several prescheduled, nonemergency inpatient surgeries and outpatient procedures in order to ensure that “staffing and resources are best able to meet patient needs during this busy time.”

Pavia worries that if cases continue to increase over the next two weeks, “which we expect they will, then we really are going to be in a serious situation in terms of hospital capacity.”

The problem is not unique to Utah. According to The New York Times, a “drastic and unusually early” surge in RSV cases is overwhelming pediatric units across the U.S.

Pavia emphasized in the Friday interview that infants under 1 year of age are the most susceptible to RSV, so he urged parents to keep their young children away from crowds and anyone showing cold symptoms.

He also said that if you are caring for an infant and begin to show symptoms, wear a mask and double up on hand-washing.

Pavia also advised that people get their bivalent COVID-19 boosters and flu shots.