Flu season and COVID-19 are adding to stresses at Cincinnati Children's

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Flu has resumed its usual seasonal stride in the Cincinnati region, coming back from a nearly flat 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But even a typical flu season could mean further stresses on hospitals full with COVID-19 patients.

On Friday night, the Facebook page of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center warned that the region’s major pediatric care provider was “currently incredibly full.” The social medic warning came at the end of a week of alarms from Ohio hospital leaders that the overwhelmed system is facing the year-end holidays and the approach of more illness to come.

To address the medical staffing shortage, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine directed the National Guard to mobilize 1,050 troops to hospitals that need the extra hands.

A CVS Health worker gets a flu shot in 2021.
A CVS Health worker gets a flu shot in 2021.

The Cincinnati Children’s posting was removed from Facebook Monday, and Dr. Patty Manning, chief of staff at Cincinnati Children's, said Friday’s crisis had passed. “Friday capped off a very busy week. Things improved over the weekend and generally look better now, as they always do during a holiday week,” she said. “We are still preparing, as all of health care is, for whatever omicron and the next several weeks will bring.”

Likely in the next several weeks is a rise in flu. Last week, Hamilton County Public Health released a track of influenza cases so far this season. While not approaching the peaks of the 2019-2020 season, flu is running well ahead of a year ago, when influenza got suppressed with the public health fight against the new coronavirus: masking or full-face shielding, hand washing in soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds staying home when sick, getting a flu vaccination.

Ohio’s weekly flu report on Friday found that while still low compared to 2020 and 2019, hospitalizations had jumped more than 20% in a week.

At Cincinnati Children’s, Manning said, “We are seeing a real mix of things: COVID, flu, RSV and other lesser-known viruses, on top of the volume of very sick children with cancer, transplants, injuries, et cetera that we are always managing. Our COVID numbers have been in the double digits for weeks now, and not getting better, unfortunately.”

Cincinnati Children’s spokesman Barrett J. Brunsman said, “Based on our current data, Cincinnati Children’s expects a busy influenza season – more similar to what we saw pre-COVID-19.”

Dr. Felicia Scaggs Huang, associate director of infection prevention and control at Cincinnati Children’s, said she could not predict how many children will need hospitalization for flu. But Cincinnati Children’s is finding that vaccination rates for flu are lower than in previous years, Huang said, which means that more people are susceptible to getting severe disease.

Flu in Hamilton County has surpassed last year's nearly flat season, and hospital officials say a bad flu season will further stress already overwhelmed health care providers.
Flu in Hamilton County has surpassed last year's nearly flat season, and hospital officials say a bad flu season will further stress already overwhelmed health care providers.

Dr. Will Sawyer, a Sharonville family practitioner and national advocate of handwashing for good hygiene, said Monday he was seeing more COVID-19 in his office than flu for far. But he is concerned that last year’s awareness to prevent disease spread has lapsed

“Nobody’s applying the same safety techniques as far as masking and staying home to protect themselves,” Sawyer said. “So now people are coming together inconsistently masking or not, with the unconscious habit of self-inoculation, touching the eyes, nose and mouth.”

Sawyer also said it was too early to tell how effective this year’s flu shot will be against the major strains in circulation. The power of the flu shot fluctuates even within a season, so public health officials urge vaccination to improve the odds of fending off serious illness.

As the year-end holidays' approach and people choose to gather, Sawyer warned that “if one person comes into a space and people are not protecting themselves in the eyes, nose and mouth, all the surfaces are contaminated.” Sawyer advocates the use of clear full-face shields rather than nose-and-mouth masks as better protection against infection.

As of Monday, the hospitals once again stood at critical levels, according to the daily report from the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Training, a project of Cincinnati Children’s and UC Health. The report found 620 COVID-19 patients in the 40 hospitals of the 14-county Cincinnati region, which is 19% of hospital capacity. Public health officials have said 90% of the COVID-19 patients have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We need everyone’s help,” said Manning at Cincinnati Children’s. “We are hoping not to change anything, but we have to be realistically prepared for what the next few weeks portend.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Flu: Early yet, but flu adding to stresses at Cincinnati Children's

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting