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Triangle hospitals rally to accommodate influx of patients

WUNC_WakeMedGarner_57244.jpg
Kate Medley
/
For WUNC
Triangle-area hospitals are grappling with the overlap of three respiratory viruses — COVID-19, RSV and influenza. This Sept. 9, 2022 file photo shows an emergency room at the WakeMed Healthplex in Garner.

Triangle-area hospitals are facing yet another significant hurdle this winter with three respiratory viruses going around.

"The confluence of flu activity with the pre-existing state of COVID-19, in addition to RSV, definitely has culminated in significant challenges related to all three of them circulating in the community at the same time," said Tom Ivester, chief medical officer at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill.

Several factors have led to this situation, including relaxed masking policies, holiday get-togethers and colder weather.

Now, hospitals' main concerns include bed space and staff.

Duke University Hospital and UNC Medical Center are re-purposing certain beds to make more space for patients.

"We can use adult beds for older children, or conversely, [pediatrics] beds for younger adults," said Dr. Lisa Pickett, a trauma and critical care surgeon at Duke University Hospital.

Pickett said the majority of people who get sick can recover at home.

To keep healthcare workers safe enough to care for patients, staff are required to wear masks, wash their hands often and stay home from work if they feel any symptoms.

"We monitor staff outages on a daily basis. And so far, over the last few months, we've done a very good job of managing that, and have had a fairly modest level of absences related to infections," said Ivester.

Both hospitals say there's enough staff to care for patients even when some get sick.

Pickett suggests families should plan their holiday events around the most vulnerable person in the family.

"If you have someone [in your family] who's very vulnerable, you may want to plan your get-togethers differently out of your love for that person," Pickett said.

People who are most vulnerable to these viruses include the elderly, premature babies, and immunocompromised individuals.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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