It’s not a mandate, but Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines makes the recommendation to help hospitals overwhelmed with RSV, influenza and COVID cases.
PORTLAND, Ore. – The Multnomah County health worker is asking everyone to start wearing face masks indoors when around other people, at least until the end of the year , to help control the increase in respiratory infections.
Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines made the request during a briefing with county health officials and doctors Thursday afternoon. Vines emphasized that it was not a mandate and she said she did not anticipate a mask mandate, public health shutdowns, enforced social distancing or requirements that organizations change their masking policy.
Vines said she’s asking people to “put a mask back on when you’re indoors with other people, and that goes for kids in K-12 and child care,” for help give overwhelmed pediatric care units and ERs a fighting chance to catch up as they deal with the triple threat of RSV, rapidly rising influenza cases and rising COVID hospitalizations.
“We’ve used the word unprecedented a lot over the last three years, so it’s hard to know how to increase that,” Vines said. “We are at what our people call a historic moment in terms of the pressures on our local healthcare system.”
All county emergency departments are essentially full, Vines said, with “high demand for hospital and emergency care that is likely to go beyond the [space and staffing] that we have locally.”
Vines said the main driver of the current crisis is RSV. She said it remained a “major concern” in children, especially those under 5, although she said they were also seeing cases in adults, including hospitalizations. Vines said health officials are hopeful they are nearing the peak of the RSV season, but the level of influenza activity is causing additional concern, with hospitalizations rising rapidly and a “surprising increase” in COVID-19 hospitalizations. .
Other doctors spoke at the briefing, including Dr. Wendy Hasson, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Randall Children’s Hospital. She said Randall was seeing “historic numbers not only of admissions but also of emergency room visits,” with the emergency room seeing nearly double the number of patients it would normally see in a normal winter.
Hasson echoed Vines, saying that if RSV is a big reason for the current crisis, it’s “really the confluence of multiple respiratory viruses happening at the same time.” She said they see a lot of children getting sick from viruses like rhinovirus, enterovirus and parainfluenza. She said flu cases are “increasing exponentially”.
“RSV, rhinovirus, enterovirus, influenza – all of these viruses are very familiar disease processes to the pediatric healthcare community caring for these children,” Hasson said. “So it’s not a disease crisis, it’s a resource crisis, which means we just don’t have enough nurses, respiratory therapists and support staff.”
In addition to masking up indoors, Vines said anyone six months and older should get a flu shot. She said people should also get the COVID booster, which she says “continues to be a good match for the variant of Omicron that’s currently circulating.” She said it’s never too late to start the series of vaccinations against COVID.
Vines said sick people should stay away from others and people in a high-risk category should avoid crowds and stay away from sick people. She also said hand washing and using hand sanitizer are more important than ever with RSV, which tends to spread on surfaces more easily than COVID.
Another recommendation is that people only go to the emergency room for real emergencies. Doctors say many people show up just to get tested, bogging down the system.
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