The federal government should be ready to send personnel and equipment to hospitals in New York that are grappling with a large influx of patients with respiratory viruses, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.
The surge in cases, which has been seen locally and around the nation, is especially serious at children’s hospitals where large numbers of young patients with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza are forcing these facilities to operate beyond capacity, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during a news conference in his midtown Manhattan office.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes cold symptoms in most people. It can result in more serious illness for babies and young children as well as older adults.
Infectious disease experts have said several years of COVID-19 protocols such as masking and social distancing have decreased or eliminated exposure to other viruses such as RSV, resulting in decreased immunity and an uptick in RSV and flu cases when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
Schumer said hospitals on Long Island and in New York City are “overwhelmed with huge spikes in RSV cases for kids and this is increasing waiting times at the emergency room and it has caused backlogs.”
He said the number of children who need to be admitted to Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park is up 49% compared to last year.
At the same time, cases of seasonal influenza are rising and COVID-19 cases remain steady, officials said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “has the authority to help with scenarios like this,” Schumer said. “I’m calling on them to be ready … The minute they need help, HHS has to be there.”
Schumer said that assistance can come in the form of equipment or resources for extra beds. It can also mean easing regulations that allow doctors and nurses from other states to practice in New York, if needed.
HHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Dr. Charles Schleien, chairman of pediatrics at Northwell Health, said Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park has been able to handle the increase in patients by creating about 75 new beds in recent weeks.
“This surge has been going on now since the mid to end of October and it has just been relentless,” said Schleien, who attended the news conference with Schumer. “I have been practicing almost 40 years and we have never seen an RSV surge like we are having over these past few weeks.”
Schleien said Cohen’s emergency department, which typically sees about 200 children over a 24-hour period, has been seeing about 300 children a day.
Officials at Stony Brook Children's Hospital have said they are using "surge spaces" and other areas to accommodate the large volume of children being treated for respiratory illnesses including RSV.
Schleien said while RSV doesn't seem to be letting up, the number of children being admitted with illnesses from seasonal flu is also growing.
Health officials have predicted this could be the worst flu season in years for many of the same reasons RSV has surged. While flu rates are on the upswing, the number of people getting the flu vaccine appears to be down.
“While RSV is still very high, flu is coming up and going to inundate the hospitals,” he said.