SC hospital’s pediatric ICU ‘beyond capacity’ with COVID and ‘winter viruses’

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2021 at 7:55 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - With just three weeks until some South Carolina students go back to school, MUSC Children’s Hospital says their hospital and ICU are full.

“We are up to our eyeballs in sick and injured children and that is a scary situation,” Dr. Elizabeth Mack said.

Mack said what she is seeing across MUSC Children’s Hospital is also happening at children’s hospitals across the country.

She worries the trend they are seeing now will only get worse when kids go back to school and many choose not to wear a mask.

She said in addition to the injuries and hospitalizations associated with the summer months like near-drownings or car accidents, they are seeing a steady spread of illnesses that typically spread in the colder months.

“We are seeing a massive resurgence in usual winter respiratory viruses. Viruses like RSV, like rhinovirus, parainfluenza,” she said.

While people were wearing masks and social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 last winter, they reduced the spread of these other illnesses.

However, Mack said when the masks started to come off those other respiratory viruses spread despite the warmer climate.

“With children being together potentially in an unmasked scenario and most children being unvaccinated for COVID this could be a very dangerous situation,” she said.

She believes that if more people get vaccinated and proper mitigation strategies are put in place, schools can resume in-person learning safely, which she said is important for students’ physical and mental health.

“We showed last year we can do this safely,” she said.

The Director of Public Health with the Dept. of Health and Environmental Control is also recommending people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask indoors.

“We recommend that schools ensure that no one is bullied or criticized for wearing a mask while attending school or school activities,” Dr. Brannon Traxler said.

While not every hospital in the state is experiencing a similar uptick in patients, they are still prepared.

“It usually starts with increased numbers in Charleston and feeds up the state of South Carolina,” Prisma Health pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Burch said. “Whether that is because of tourism I don’t know, but it is a trend I’ve seen in the COVID outbreak.”

Burch said a top concern of hers when it comes to children being infected is the emergency of MIS-C, a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and associated with COVID-19.

Mack calls this disease “risky” for kids and said this illness usually comes after a coronavirus infection.

South Carolina schools are not allowed to require masking because of a proviso in the state budget, but Mack hopes people choose to wear them for their own safety.

“We’ve been steadily upticking now to the point of a capacity crisis,” she said.

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