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Long wait times at hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms during spike of flu and RSV cases

The Minnesota Department of Health says some emergency rooms are seeing average wait times as long as eight hours.

MINNESOTA, USA — Chances are you or someone you know is sick right now.

Doctors say there is a lot of sickness going around with viruses like RSV, influenza, the common cold and COVID spreading in the community.

Many hospitals and clinics are seeing long wait times.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says some emergency rooms are seeing average wait times as long as eight hours.

People of all ages are getting sick, but children have been especially impacted.

Children’s Minnesota says they are “experiencing an influx of admissions due to widespread and early respiratory virus surge this year.”

This surge includes a high number of RSV and flu cases in kids that is “leading to longer-than-normal wait times in our emergency rooms and primary care clinics.”

MDH released new numbers Thursday afternoon that show a significant increase in flu outbreaks at schools this week.

The organization is reporting 97 new school outbreaks this week compared to 15 new outbreaks last week.

A school outbreak is defined as having at least 5% of the student body absent due to illness or having at least three students in a classroom.

"There's an overwhelming demand to get seen,” Hennepin Healthcare Pediatrician Dr. Krishnan Subrahmanian said.

"I tested six kids yesterday (Tuesday) for various respiratory illnesses and six came back positive for influenza."

Dr. Subrahmanian is also seeing a big spike in RSV, the common cold and a few cases of COVID.

"You have a bunch of kids who weren't seeing a lot of viruses for the last two to three years. So, they are pretty immune naïve to a lot of these viruses. Kids are being exposed at a high level,” Dr. Subrahmanian says.

Minnesota Medical Association President Dr. Will Nicholson says many hospitals and clinics are also short-staffed, which is another reason why parents are seeing long wait times.

"As most people know, health care workers are a little tired out and we've got some workforce shortages,” Dr. Nicholson says.

Many hospitals and clinics are trying to increase capacity and bring on more staff, but Nicholson says that takes time.

He says hospitals are more focused on keeping the staff they do have.

"I know every healthcare organization is trying to take great care of their frontline folks. It's hard to do when capacity is strained, and waits are long. That is stressful for us too,” Dr. Nicholson says.

The Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) says “care capacity has been an ongoing crisis throughout the pandemic as hospitals and health systems continue to face a historic workforce shortage.”

Recent data from MHA shows one in five Minnesota hospital jobs are currently vacant.

MDH says they haven't seen this many flu cases this early in more than a decade.

Doctors say it’s much more common to see high numbers like these in January or February.

So, is the big wave simply happening early this year? Or is this just the beginning?

"While we hope this is the worst, we don't know yet,” Dr. Subrahmanian says.

If parents are worried about their kids, Dr. Subrahmanian offers this advice.

“If it’s runny nose, cough, congestion and it hasn’t affected breathing yet, as long as your child is remaining hydrated and not having high fevers, then I think those are things that might be able to be managed at home,” Dr. Subrahmanian explains.

“I think once it transitions to the point where your child is not drinking, is not urinating, if your child is having difficulty breathing, and then those fevers are pretty elevated, then that’s time that we should probably be checking in.”

For more information on RSV and kids, Children’s Minnesota has a helpful guide on its website.

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