Over the last two years, our hospitals experienced significant winter COVID-19 surges. This year, with the specter of yet another surge approaching, we’re also contending with high levels of influenza and other viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus. Additionally, public health officials have warned of increasing COVID-19 cases associated with the spread of new variants, subvariants and sublineages of the original virus that may be more contagious and effective at evading current vaccine protections.
California’s hospitals have seen a steady increase in pediatric hospital occupancy — up 10% from August to October. In the same timeframe, we’ve seen influenza hospitalizations among all ages increase over 380%. Flu typically begins ramping up in late November or December and current above-normal levels paired with new variants of COVID-19 signal a challenging road ahead.
To compound matters, the governor’s recent announcement that California’s COVID-19 state of emergency will conclude in February 2023 raises significant concerns regarding hospitals’ ability to care for all in need. Ending the State of Emergency will remove tools that have temporarily afforded hospitals the ability to hire out-of-state nurses and create overflow beds in certain areas during surges. We strongly believe these flexibilities should be kept in place.
The potential for a perfect storm of respiratory illness, influenza and COVID-19 may indicate critical challenges in the short term. However, if hospitals can continue with the flexibilities employed during the state of emergency, they will help to ensure adequate access and capacity for patients beyond just the foreseeable future.
Along with public health leaders, emergency medical services and others, we’re encouraging members to take steps to mitigate additional stressors, such as revisiting surge plans from previous years; urging health care workers to receive updated COVID-19 booster and flu vaccines; communicating the importance of these vaccines to communities; and planning for increased staffing, supplies and equipment needs. In the coming weeks, HASC will also disseminate recommendations from our recent Pandemic Response and Emergency Planning (PREP) Report, which draws from a broad range of perspectives and lessons learned that emerged over the course of the pandemic.
Take care and stay safe.