As respiratory virus weighs on U.S. healthcare system, Biden administration tells states how it prepares to help


Nearly 20,000 people were hospitalized with the flu in the U.S. last week, nearly double the number hospitalized the previous week, according to data updated Friday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates that flu has sickened at least 8.7 million people, hospitalized 78,000 and killed 4,500 this season.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a letter to state governors across the country on Friday that flu and other respiratory viruses are putting “increasing strain” on the country’s healthcare system.

In a letter obtained exclusively by CNN, Becerra wrote that the Biden administration “stands ready to continue assisting you with resources, supplies and personnel.”

Last month, children’s health leaders asked the federal government to formally declare a state of emergency to support hospitals and communities because “pediatric respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza, and ongoing children’s mental health emergencies are of concern.” surge.”

The Biden administration has not yet declared a public emergency for RSV or influenza, but Becerra’s letter outlines how the public health emergency declaration for Covid-19 could be applied to the broader response to COVID-19 and other respiratory and other respiratory illnesses. common challenges. seasonal diseases.

“The government has exercised regulatory flexibilities to help healthcare providers and suppliers continue to respond to COVID-19. These flexibilities, while critical to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, can also help (including RSV and influenza) in the transmission of many challenges,” the letter said. “You and your healthcare provider can still use them as you both provide care for flu, RSV, COVID-19 and other illnesses.”

For example, if a hospital’s staffing shortages are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, it may use waivers to allow for increased surge capacity or to move patients more easily — even if patients require treatment other than Covid-19, such as flu or respiratory syncytial virus.

The letter also highlights available funding, including $400 million annually from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare for and respond to public health threats, including influenza and other respiratory diseases such as RSV, as well as data, analytics and other programming Resources are pooled by the federal government. It also noted that the federal government is monitoring the supply chain for critical drugs and equipment, and that federal health officials have been engaging with the state’s governors over the past month through a conference hosted by the National Governors Association.

“As your federal partner, we stand ready to assess any request for federal medical assistance and support — including requests for medical personnel and equipment — and work closely with you and local jurisdictions to identify matching resource needs and Availability,” Becerra wrote.

Influenza activity was most active in the south, with hotspots spreading from El Paso to southwestern Virginia. Respiratory virus levels are “high” or “very high” in all but six states, and seasonal flu activity remains “very high and continues to increase,” according to the CDC.

Nearly 17 out of every 100,000 people were hospitalized for the flu this quarter, a rate typically seen in December or January. The cumulative hospitalization rate at this point in the season hasn’t been this high in more than a decade.

The latest monitoring data may not capture the full impact of holiday gatherings because it only captures Nov. 26, two days after Thanksgiving.

While the flu continues to spread and RSV has shown signs of slowing nationwide, testing positivity rates remain higher than they have been in years, and cumulative hospitalizations are about 10 times higher than typical for this time of season. In less than two months, this season’s RSV hospitalization rate has approached the total RSV hospitalization rate for the entire 2018-19 season.

There is no vaccine for RSV, but health officials have urged people to get a flu shot and update their Covid-19 boosters ahead of winter. With the holidays and flu season upon us, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned this week of a possible emergency.

“When you have very little wiggle room or ICU beds, when you have almost all ICU beds taken up, it’s not good for children who have RSV and need intensive care. But it also takes up all the beds, And kids with some other illnesses that require intensive care or ICU, they don’t have beds,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “So if you’re in that situation, it’s close to an emergency.”

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