Children's Hospital Colorado is experiencing record volumes of patients with respiratory illnesses in our Emergency Departments, with inpatient units and intensive care units operating at or above maximum capacity for several weeks. The number of patients seeking care has been on average 30% higher than the busiest of days in a typical respiratory season, which has historically been from January to March.
An unusual respiratory season
"While we are used to treating children with respiratory illnesses and seeing increased volumes of patients every winter during a typical respiratory season, this early and severe respiratory season is unlike anything we've seen before," said Kevin Carney, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Children's Colorado and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
An early and intense start
The early and intense respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season began at the end of the summer, which started with rhinoviruses and enteroviruses as children returned to school, and now significantly increased numbers of children infected with RSV and influenza. RSV can cause a spectrum of disease in children and adults, with babies under 1 year old typically experiencing the most severe symptoms.
Addressing the surge
To accommodate the historic increased volumes, Children's Colorado has implemented normal surge tactics and additional measures to accommodate the influx of patients coming to the hospital. These include:
- Reallocating beds and expanding inpatient care areas
- Engaging additional contract team members, including travel nurses, to assist with the surge of patients across our system
- At times, postponing surgeries that aren't considered emergencies
Some patients may experience longer wait times
These tactics help preserve capacity to care for patients who are very sick and need care immediately, avoid overcrowding and have team members on hand to ensure team members can provide safe and proper care for every patient. Though these measures are helping, families who need a lower level of care are experiencing longer wait times in our Emergency Departments due to the volume of people seeking care.
What parents and caregivers should know
While it is difficult to anticipate what the winter will hold, Children's Colorado is preparing for continued high volumes of patients through April. As caregivers navigate this difficult season, Children's Colorado offers the following tips:
- If your baby is struggling to breathe, call 911 or take them to the emergency department.
- Our pediatric Emergency Departments on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, South Campus in Highlands Ranch, North Campus in Broomfield and Colorado Springs are open 24/7.
- To prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses, hand-washing, staying home from school/work when sick, covering coughs/sneezes and masking when symptomatic are key to preventing transmission.
- With the upcoming holidays, it's important to be mindful of play dates, family gatherings and holiday events.
- We urge everyone who can to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot and to make sure all kids are up to date on their other vaccine schedules.
- If you are seeking assistance or care, please call your primary care provider or the Children's Hospital Colorado ParentSmart Healthline™ at 720-777-0123, to receive tips from registered, experienced pediatric nurses, available 24/7.
- Caregivers can also use the free ChildrensMD mobile app to access care guides to help make smart decisions on what level of care (if any) is needed and how to provide speedy symptom relief for minor illnesses or injuries you can manage on your own.
- Symptoms of respiratory viruses can be similar. Read our experts' guide on how to spot the subtle differences between RSV, flu, COVID-19 and other illnesses.