President Biden pressed to declare national emergency over ‘unprecedented’ virus surge among children

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association are calling on President Joe Biden to declare an emergency over an “unprecedented” respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) surge.

A letter from the organizations was sent to the president and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, suggesting a formal declaration was the only means to acquire needed flexibilities in regard to capacity issues in pediatric hospitals and communities, according to Fox News.

“On behalf of America’s pediatricians and children’s hospitals,” the letter began, “we ask you to declare an emergency to support the national response to the alarming surge of pediatric hospitalizations due to pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza along with the continuing children’s mental health emergency.”

“The confluence of these capacity issues in pediatric hospitals and communities requires nimbleness and flexibilities that can only be provided through a Presidential declaration of an emergency under the Stafford Act or National Emergencies Act and a Public Health Emergency declaration,” the letter added. “These flexibilities have been provided under COVID-19 and were critical during the height of the surge and ongoing fluctuations of the virus. Children and children’s providers require the same capacity support as they strive to keep up with increasing needs of our youngest Americans.”

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have cemented the idea of the government playing a significant role in health care.

“President Biden and Secretary Becerra have been invaluable leaders to children’s hospitals across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we implore them to renew their commitment to pediatric health care and give us the resources necessary to control the ongoing RSV and flu surge with the continuing children’s mental health emergency,” Children’s Hospital Association CEO Mark Wietecha said in a statement. “Our system is stretched to its limit and without immediate attention the crisis will only worsen.”

An emergency declaration “would allow waiver of certain Medicare, Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements so that hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers may share resources in a coordinated effort to care for their community and have access to emergency funding to keep up with the growing demands, specifically related to workforce support,” the organizations said.

Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the letter said there are “alarmingly high rates of RSV and other respiratory illnesses across the country.” RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms and most people recover within two weeks, according to the agency. For the very young, very old, and those with compromised immune systems. it can be more serious.

“These unprecedented levels of RSV happening with growing flu rates, ongoing high numbers of children in mental health crisis and serious workforce shortages are combining to stretch pediatric care capacity at the hospital and community level to the breaking point,” the missive stated. “Due to these challenges, pediatric hospitals and pediatricians are being asked to support more care and higher levels of care than ever before.”

According to the organizations, more than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are full across the country and many states are reporting more than 90% of their pediatric beds are occupied.

The UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has set up a tent outside its facility to handle a surge in young patients, Fox News reported.

Raymond Pitetti, director of the hospital’s Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, shared a video on Twitter detailing what they were encountering:

“Over the past six to eight weeks – maybe even a little bit longer – we have seen a huge increase in the number of children coming into our emergency department and the vast majority of them are coming in with respiratory illnesses and of those, many of them have RSV as the virus that is sort of triggering their respiratory illness,” Pitetti said in the video.

“The tent is a space that gives us 8 to 10 more beds… if we start to see a major spike throughout the day and we have the resources to do it, we are going to open up the tent,” he added.

Tom Tillison


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