A health emergency has been declared in Southern California’s Orange County due to rapidly spreading viral infections that are sending more children to the hospital, health officials said Tuesday.

The county health officer issued the declaration Monday due to record numbers of pediatric hospitalizations and daily emergency room visits, the county’s health care agency said in a press release. The move allows the county of 3 million people to access state and federal resources and enlist assistance from non-pediatric hospitals to help care for sick children, said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s health officer.

“Our concern here is that it is reaching even record levels,” Chinsio-Kwong told reporters. “We want to make sure we are prepared to care for any sick child in the county who falls ill and requires hospital care.”

The county has seen a growing number of children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can cause severe breathing problems for babies, while flu cases are also starting to rise. The situation is similar in much of the country where doctors are bracing for the possibility that RSV, flu and COVID-19 could combine to stress hospitals.

Last week, neighboring San Diego County’s public health agency sounded a similar alarm.

In Orange County, the main children’s hospital and a smaller pediatric hospital facility are operating at or above capacity, and the main campus has obtained waivers to put beds in different areas to handle the influx, said Melanie Patterson, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Children’s Health of Orange County, which reported a spike in RSV cases to 186 last week.

Wait times can range from four to 12 hours, she said. Health care officials urged parents to not let that dissuade them from bringing in children showing signs of respiratory distress and said they’re triaging patients to get the sickest seen quickly while staff keep watch on those waiting in the lobby to ensure they’re safe.

Chinsio-Kwong said children and at-risk individuals should keep up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, wear masks indoors and stay home when sick.

Associated Press

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