The United States may very well face what has been dubbed a “tripledemic” this winter, with cases of COVID-19, the flu and a virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) on the rise simultaneously.
Cases of RSV are rapidly increasing in young children, who typically contract the virus by the age of three, but who have been protected from it and other viruses during lockdown periods.
“Pediatric intensive care units across the country, many parts of it, are full,” said Dr. David Agus, medical associate of CBS News. Most of the hospitalizations now are related to influenza and RSV, not COVID-19, he added.
The simultaneous increase in cases of three distinct viruses comes as more professionals leave the healthcare field for a job that pays better or is less physically and emotionally draining, which could further threaten the nation’s strained healthcare system.
“I am concerned that hospitals and healthcare professionals will be overwhelmed,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, medical associate of CBS News and editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News. “We are seeing very high rates of both influenza and RSV, so probably something like 35,000 hospitalizations a week for those two conditions alone.”
Of course, COVID-19 is still around too. “We’re getting ready, will we have the beds? I’m really worried about that,” Gounder said.
Unmanned hospital beds
A vaccine is now available for RSV, a common respiratory virus that causes cold-like symptoms but can be severe in infants and the elderly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lately, there has been a spike in RSV cases among very young children. Young children are particularly susceptible to developing severe symptoms because their immune systems are underdeveloped and their airways are smaller than those of adults, making it more difficult to breathe when inflamed.
The health system is also struggling with a reduction in the workforce following the exodus of health workers from the field during the pandemic, largely due to burnout. This means that even more work falls on the knees of nurses, doctors, and administrative and support staff who remain in the industry.
According to commercial intelligence firm Definitive Healthcare, some 330,000 medical professionals dropped out of the workforce in 2021.
“It’s an even more difficult situation, [with] even more staff shortages, so even more people run out and leave, “Gounder said.
Seeking a better work-life balance
Some of the doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other providers quit their jobs to retire early, while others decided to seek administrative work and stop seeing patients.
“So they’re all different kinds of ways to reduce that burnout of having a better work-life balance that, frankly, has been really hard for people over the past couple of years,” Gounder said.
Gounder said he is already seeing the impact of limited staffing on patients seeking care at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
“Patients sit in the ER for a day or two waiting for a bed, because it’s not just about having the physical bed – doctors, nurses and other staff need to take care of that bed.” he said.
“The whole system is really clogged right now,” he added.
Workers from different sectors left their jobs in search of better wages and working conditions during the so-called “. “
There is no clear-cut solution or obvious way to attract more professionals into the medical field, and while higher wages wouldn’t hurt, better pay alone won’t solve the problem, according to Gounder.
“I think people are evaluating their time in a completely different way now and I think it would really require a rethinking of the healthcare business model, really changing the way we structure healthcare, how we deliver it, who it is. provides, “he said. “I’m a little skeptical that we’re going to make those changes.”