Health experts in Sonoma County gave an update last week about the surge of respiratory illnesses plaguing the county and filling hospital beds.
Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases are clogging hospitals across the state, especially children’s hospitals, according to the California Department of Public Health.
In Sonoma County, the problem is growing, experts said at the Nov. 15 community briefing. Add in COVID numbers that are staying about the same and residents face a trifecta of viral pathogens—some of which can infect a person at the same time.
Dr. Gary Green, infectious disease specialist for Sutter Health, provided some sobering information about what he described as an “extraordinary” amount of viruses moving through Sonoma County, with influenza making “footprints” everywhere, especially in Santa Rosa.
“Right now, out of hundreds and hundreds of flu swabs we’ve sent in, 43% are positive for influenza,” he said.
Green said the baseline for the advent of flu season is usually around 10% positive swabs. The numbers for RSV were even greater, with 60% of swabs coming back positive.
Panelists said that hospitals are near capacity but not being overwhelmed at this point, though when children are in need of hospitalization they are generally transferred to facilities out of county.
Green said that the Sutter hospital in Santa Rosa has doubled its ER space, which has helped them remain within capacity, though a tent outside is also being used. Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa has also erected a tent for overflow, according to County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase.
Asked why flu season is so bad this year, Green pointed to COVID response fatigue combined with a contagious strain that previously wracked Australia’s winter this year. He also drew a comparison to the Influenza outbreak of 1918, which he said has a parallel to the COVID pandemic in that after the third year of dealing with the virus, people began taking less precautions.
“Kids are back at school. We’re all traveling for the holidays. People are mixing in their bubbles. And I think we can all expect viruses to bump [up] this year, and it’s going to be a rocky respiratory season this year—and it’s not due to one virus; it’s due to multiple,” he said.
Vaccination is the single greatest predictor of a good outcome from catching the flu, said Green. There is currently no vaccine available for RSV, but masking up and washing hands regularly are all strongly encouraged.
To view the Nov. 15 community update, go to the county’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CountyofSonoma.