Flu, COVID-19 and RSV comprise the "tripledemic" of diseases. A lab...

Flu, COVID-19 and RSV comprise the "tripledemic" of diseases. A lab technician prepares samples at a Northwell Health lab in New Hyde Park in November. Credit: Northwell Health / Marc Farb

Hospital emergency rooms across Long Island are filling up as more people are falling ill with flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

New York is following a national trend showing an increase in the number of people seeking medical care for respiratory illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is one of 39 states where respiratory virus activity has been declared high or very high.

“We do have a lot of patients in the emergency room with respiratory symptoms, there’s no doubt about it,” said Dr. Jonathan M. Buscaglia, chief medical officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

He said the increase, which started after Christmas, is normal for this time of year.

About 15% to 20% of patients admitted to the hospital have some kind of respiratory illness. Buscaglia said most of those patients have chronic medical conditions that were compounded by COVID-19, flu, RSV or another virus.

“A patient may not have the classic symptoms of influenza with the high fevers and muscle aches, but instead see an exacerbation of their blood sugars if they're diabetic, or they may experience some issues with fluid overload and difficulty breathing if they have bad congestive heart failure,” he said.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald and New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan issued a joint statement late Monday noting an increase in hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 and flu and seeing a significant number of infections from RSV. They urged health care workers and New Yorkers who are not feeling well or are more vulnerable to falling ill to consider wearing masks in crowded indoor settings. Many health systems on Long Island are either requiring or recommending staff and visitors wear masks when entering hospitals and other facilities.

There were 618 patients on Long Island hospitalized for COVID-19 on Jan. 8, compared with 278 on Dec. 6. But this uptick is still down from the same time period in previous years. There were 795 people hospitalized on Jan. 9, 2023, and 2,245 hospitalized on Jan. 10, 2022.

Dr. Frederick Davis, associate chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, said he estimates there has been a 15% to 20% increase in emergency room visits in recent weeks.

But not all of it is due to increased respiratory viruses. He said some could be the result of congestive heart failure and diabetic complications, as well as regular doctors being out of town and missed medication during the busy season.

“People with dietary restrictions who decide to partake in some of the holiday traditions may become a little lax,” he said. “Emergency departments tend to be very busy around the holidays because we do not close."

Dr. Christopher Raio, chief of emergency medicine at Catholic Health, said they have “seen a surge in respiratory illnesses and emergency department visits overall” across the health system.

“Each of our emergency departments has efficient viral panel testing to help our staff manage and differentiate the cases,” he said.

In a statement, NYU Langone — Long Island in Mineola said there has been an increase in seasonal respiratory virus visits to its emergency department, otherwise admissions are similar to previous seasons.

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