Chicago-Area Hospitals Running Out of Beds to Help Sick Children Amid Surge in Viruses

DuPage County's health department said "there are days when there are no open beds for seriously ill children in the hospitals serving the nearly 1 million residents"

Chicago-area hospitals are filling up in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday, with some reporting days without beds available to treat seriously ill children as flu and RSV cases surge.

"Hospitals and clinics are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people who are ill with respiratory diseases like influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19," the DuPage County Health Department said in a statement Tuesday. "Children are being especially impacted, with more children with severe illness seeking care at hospitals with some waiting hours to be seen. Some even need to be transferred to another healthcare facility."

The county said "there are days when there are no open beds for seriously ill children in the hospitals serving the nearly 1 million residents of DuPage County."

"RSV is not a new virus. Influenza is not a new virus. But we're seeing both earlier and more severe cases of illness," Karen Ayala, executive director for the DuPage County Health Department, told NBC Chicago. "And yes, we are concerned because... we're going to be getting together, we're going to be spending more time indoors versus outdoors. It all leads us to be concerned that this will get worse before it gets better."

At the same time, Advocate Aurora Health said all of its facilities have implemented a "limited-visitor policy" as they work to "reduce the spread of COVID, flu and other seasonal illnesses."

A spokesperson for the hospital told NBC Chicago the move was "due to the substantial increase in influenza activity."

Health experts in Chicago and across the country have been expressing concern since October that an "explosion" of respiratory viruses -- RSV, influenza and COVID -- would start to appear this fall and winter as cases of each continue to rise.

As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said "seasonal influenza activity is elevated across the country," with levels reported to be high in Illinois.

“We are continuing to see a rise in influenza activity, and along with this is increases in outpatient clinic visits, ER visits and hospitalized children for influenza-like illness," Dr. Jennifer Seo with the Chicago Department of Public Health said last week.

The Illinois Department of Public Health told NBC Chicago Tuesday that pediatric ICU bed availability was down to just 5% statewide.

"We’re being kind of overwhelmed by the RSV cases. We’re probably at about three to five times our usual normal cases," said Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

But flu cases are also spiking at many hospitals and some experts believe the current flu strain is hitting children and seniors harder than previous strains.

According to IDPH, the current flu strain circulating most in the state is H3, with some cases being found to be H3N2. A similar trend is being reported national.

Dr. Jose Romero, director the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, reportedly said the strain has historically be associated with more severe flu seasons for children and seniors.

Chicago's top doctor expressed concern that hospitals will be stretched with the latest rise in illnesses.

"It's only November and RSV has already come and hit us hard. And there's other viruses that don't make the news as much that are also surging right now just because it's respiratory virus season," said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health. "If we see a significant surge, and we will see some surge no doubt about it, of flu and of COVID, on top of that, particularly for kids, you know, we may run out of good hospital capacity."

While Arwady noted that children weren't hit as hard by COVID, they are being hit particularly hard by influenza and RSV.

Her advice heading into holiday gatherings?

Experts are pushing for continued vaccinations for both flu and COVID booster shots.

"If you are someone who is worried, if you have a young child in particular and you're worried about RSV, definitely be washing your hands, if the kids are able to put a mask on, anybody if you're having symptom cold-like symptoms, like please put a mask on... It's about keeping your germs to yourself, regardless of whether it's COVID," Arwady said. "But also, it's about keeping kids home, if they're really not feeling well, right? The number one rule, stay home when you're sick, still applies. And then anything that you can do around ventilation. So having windows open a little bit even at Thanksgiving, if you're going somewhere warmer for Thanksgiving, doing it outside, like these are all things that limit the risk not just for COVID, but for all of the other respiratory viruses."

She added that taking a COVID test before gathering, particularly if you have cold-like symptoms, could also help.

Contact Us