AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a surge in kids landing in the hospital right now, causing a shortage in intensive care unit beds.
Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicated on Thursday there are just 11 staffed pediatric ICU beds for our entire region, trauma service area O. That includes Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, San Saba, Travis and Williamson counties.
Many other regions show no available staffed pediatric ICU beds.
Health care giants Ascension Seton and St. David’s HealthCare told KXAN there’s been an increase in pediatric patients hospitalized for both respiratory and viral illnesses recently.
Ascension Texas and St. David’s HealthCare have seen an increase in the number of pediatric patients requiring hospitalization for respiratory infections and viral illnesses in recent weeks. Across our organizations, our multidisciplinary teams continue working to make sure we have adequate staffing, supplies, equipment and capacity to care for an increase of patients. We are thankful for our teams and their continued dedication to helping our communities.Ascension Seton & St. David’s HealthCare
“We are seeing lots of sick children,” said Dr. Elizabeth Knapp, associate pediatrics chief at Austin Regional Clinic.
The state data shows only five kids in the Austin region are in the ICU with COVID-19 right now. So, what else are children catching?
“We saw a number of COVID cases through June and July. That number has drifted down, but it was quickly replaced by all the other viruses that we have seen,” Knapp said.
That includes RSV, strep throat, the cold and the flu as school has started, she said.
“I’ve been in practice in general pediatrics for the last 20 years, and it’s been a very unusual season to see cases of influenza in August and September,” she said.
She and others said the return to school with no masks is partly behind the increase.
“Those respiratory illnesses that before weren’t spreading as much, because we had masking and hand washing and social distancing really strictly being enforced,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin’s public health authority.
Now, Knapp said our re-exposed immune systems are building back protection.
“And so now it’s going to take some of us getting sick before we have that immune system, especially in our children, the protection from our immune system to keep them safe,” she explained.
As Ascension and St. David’s try to keep up with staffing and equipment in the midst of this uptick, the Texas Nurses Association points out we’re still seeing a nursing staffing shortage.
“We’ve had staffing challenges even before the pandemic. It’s just been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Serena Bumpus, CEO of TNA. “Our health systems are working hard to offer incentives. And… to encourage nurses to work extra hours to cover those those shortages that we have.”
She said health care systems are also bringing in temporary travel nurses to help offset some of the staffing losses.
Walkes said still, we’re nowhere near COVID-19 surges of the past couple of years, when Austin Public Health had to tap the state for extra staffing and field hospitals.
“I hate to use the word relative ‘calm,’ but I will. I don’t want to jinx it. But… things are, are not the way they were in previous surges,” she said.
Still, to keep it that way, she said it’s important to remember your COVID-19 booster shot, flu shot and other basic, tried-and-true prevention methods like hand washing and staying home if you’re sick.
“It’s not time to let our guard down. It’s time to consider that we really need to do what we know works,” Walkes said.
Especially because there’s no telling when this surge will dissipate, added Knapp.
“Mostly because COVID has changed all of our prediction models. All of what we used to know about the patterns of disease has shifted just a bit. So, we’re all left guessing about how long this season of illness might last,” she said.