California hospitals strain as ‘tripledemic’ viruses hit older adults: ‘No longer just kids’

Mark J. Terrill/AP

California is heading into this year’s winter holiday season in a position that has become all too familiar.

Hospital systems across the Golden State are facing limited capacity as a growing number of Californians are getting infected by a ‘tripledemic’ of illnesses — the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Already inundated by a large number of children suffering from the viruses, state public health officials announced Tuesday that infections in adults were rapidly rising and flu activity had reached high levels all around the state.

The announcement means that flu transmission is just one step below the worst possible level of activity designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is no longer just focused on kids,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “It’s the pediatric kid systems who continue to be stressed — and the adult systems who are experiencing overall hospital census numbers that rival some of the hardest moments of the pandemic.”

The transmission rate of RSV has tapered off within the past month, according to Ghaly, but in its place, COVID-19 and flu cases are rising. California’s COVID-19 positivity rate of 11% is nearly double what it was in early November. Meanwhile, flu transmission in California has nearly reached the same levels seen during the state’s last taxing flu season in 2018.

The state’s hospital available bed capacity is “fast approaching” that of the Omicron surge of last year’s winter holiday season.

Ghaly said he expects up to 10,000 Californians to be hospitalized with COVID-19, RSV or the flu by the end of this month — a significant spike from the 6,100 currently hospitalized. Kaiser Permanente said that it was increasing staffing and expanding alternate space where necessary to deal with the elevated volume of cases.

“Taken separately, these infections are manageable,” Ghaly said. “But when they all come together, the difficulty posed to the system is pretty extreme.”

With hospital resources strained, Dr. Tomás Aragón, the director of the California Department of Public Health, asked residents to take every possible precaution to ensure there will be enough beds available for the youngest and most vulnerable Californians.

“We’re reminding Californians about the effective mitigation and safety measures they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones, including getting the flu shot, keeping up to date with their COVID-19 booster, and masking in indoor public places,” Aragón said in a statement.

Not all Sacramento-area hospitals have licensed pediatric beds, so they try to stabilize the patients and get them into a hospital that does.

While California hospitals have been adding temporary pediatric beds as quickly as possible, the number of children who need admission is outpacing their ability to expand right now, state officials said.

Typically, 35% to 40% of pediatric intensive care unit beds are open at hospitals, state officials said, but that number is down to about 20% statewide. In some regions, it’s below 12%.

In addition to getting vaccinated, state officials said, Californians can help by once again donning masks. KN95 or KN94 masks are better, they said, and N95 are best.

They also recommended:

  • If you are sick, stay home. COVID-19 tests are widely available, and if you have respiratory symptoms, test to determine whether you have it. There are treatments available, but they must be started within five days of symptom onset. Given that physicians are so busy, don’t delay in seeking an anti-viral prescription from your doctor.

  • Wash your hands frequently to prevent spreading germs.

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow, your inner arm or a tissue. Be sure to dispose of the tissue in a safe spot.