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OHSU forecast projects current surge of respiratory illnesses nearing peak

Hospitals will remain under severe strain as the combined surge of RSV, influenza and COVID-19 slowly declines over the next few weeks
OHSU Emergency Department sign on the building. Cases of influenza have increased sharply in the past two weeks in Oregon, along with COVID-19. OHSU and other local hospitals remain under intense pressure, especially with a surge of infants and toddlers experiencing severe illness during the resurgent wave of RSV. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
Cases of influenza have increased sharply in the past two weeks in Oregon, along with COVID-19. OHSU and other local hospitals remain under intense pressure, especially with a surge of infants and toddlers experiencing severe illness during the resurgent wave of RSV. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

Oregon hospitals will remain under severe strain from a surge in respiratory illnesses over the next few weeks, even as cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, gradually decline from this week’s expected peak, according to the latest statewide forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.

The forecast projects that RSV cases have reached a peak, and rates of RSV hospitalizations will begin to decrease following a post-Thanksgiving bump.

However, cases of influenza have increased sharply in the past two weeks in Oregon, along with COVID-19.

The forecast projects the number of Oregonians hospitalized with COVID-19 to peak at about 408 around Dec. 12 — up from 363 as of Nov. 30, according to the latest statistics from the Oregon Health Authority. The forecast does not include impacts of the new strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so the peak could be extended if those strains prove to have greater transmissibility, escape previous immunity or cause more severe illness.

Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)
Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)

“Flu and RSV are back this year,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “Combined with elevated COVID levels, the next few weeks will be very tight in terms of hospital capacity in the state.”

Hospitals remain under intense pressure, especially with a surge of infants and toddlers experiencing severe illness during the resurgent wave of RSV. Following Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s declaration of a public health emergency, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and other children’s hospitals in the Portland metro area began implementing crisis standards of care, which provides hospitals maximum flexibility to most effectively use resources, including staffing plans, to ensure everyone is able to get the best possible care.

The surge in cases — including unprecedented demand on emergency departments statewide — comes on top of health care staffing challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RSV-Oregon Forecast

On Thursday, leaders of Portland area health systems called on parents to exercise patience.

“Because of the high volume of sick young children requiring emergency services at this time, caregivers and families, unfortunately, may experience long wait times in our emergency departments,” they wrote. “Additionally, appointments for urgent, immediate and primary care may take longer to schedule. Except when emergency care is needed, we urge families and caregivers with concerns to first call their primary care doctor.”

They noted that the best thing parents and caregivers can do to keep their children healthy and safe this fall and winter is to practice many of the measures that were emphasized during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Wear masks in public places.
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Stay up to date on all routine vaccinations, including flu shots and COVID-19 boosters.
  • Limit infants’ exposure to frequent visitors and crowds, especially if they are at risk for severe illness and/or younger than 12 weeks of age.
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