ONEIDA, N.Y. — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) says he wants to increase federal support for upstate New York hospitals strained by the “dramatic” increase in RSV cases.
Cases of RSV, which is short for respiratory syncytial virus infection, are beginning to “surge” across Central New York, Schumer’s office noted.
The Senate majority leader spoke Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 23, during a visit to Oneida Health Hospital in Oneida. The hospital’s positive RSV cases have already nearly doubled compared to last year, with children under 5 years of age accounting for 80 percent of cases, per Schumer’s office.
At the same time, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse has so many RSV patients that it has run out of beds and is “forced” to send kids to hospitals in other cities.
Flanked by pediatricians on the frontlines, Schumer said the spiking levels of RSV with growing flu rates “warrants [immediate] federal action.” The Democrat called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “to be ready to act at a moment’s notice to provide whatever support” that upstate New York hospitals need.
Schumer reported that the federal government has “unique” authority to help, including the power to support temporary structures, “surge” staffing if not enough pediatricians are available, move patients across states lines, credential out-of-state providers, enhance the use of telehealth, and coordinate medical-supply chains.
“Central New York hospitals are facing an unprecedented surge in RSV cases among children, and public-health experts all say it is only going to get worse as we enter the cold winter months. Normally, RSV cases start to grow in October and November before peaking in December and January. It is outright scary given that hospitals are already struggling to keep up, and it’s possible the worst is yet to come,” Schumer said in a news release. “As a grandfather to two young children, there is nothing more terrifying than the thought of them getting sick, and all across CNY parents are facing hospitals who are pushed to the brink, with increased wait times, full beds, all while their child is struggling to breathe because of RSV.”
The Senate majority leader contended that “hospitals are doing their best on the frontlines,” but that federal support and a comprehensive plan to respond to this major RSV spike is needed.
“The feds have a unique ability to get more doctors and supplies where it’s needed, and they need to be prepared to do so. Nobody really knows what will come next, and if an Upstate hospital says they need something, the feds need to be able to say, ‘help is on the way right now.’ Hospitals cannot afford to wait,” Schumer warned.
The story in Syracuse
Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital is converting other units at Upstate University Hospital to accommodate the “unprecedented surge” of children with serious RSV infections, Dr. Mantosh Dewan, president of Upstate Medical University, said in Schumer’s release.
“We’re also collaborating closely with other hospitals and family physicians across the region to ensure both kids and adults with less serious cases of RSV receive care in the most appropriate settings, whether at home or in their local community hospital,” Dewan said. “We deeply appreciate Senator Schumer’s leadership and partnership in addressing this significant public health priority.”
Dr. Kathryn Anderson, Onondaga County Health Commissioner, was among the medical professionals standing with Schumer during his remarks in Oneida.
“The simultaneous circulation of RSV, flu, and COVID is driving far higher levels of respiratory illnesses than we have seen for many years,” Anderson said in the release. “The current RSV surge in children is straining our pediatric clinics and hospitals, and there is no readily available antiviral or vaccine for RSV. Thankfully, there are vaccines for flu and COVID, which work well against the currently circulating strains of flu and Omicron and can help prevent hospitalization and death. We strongly urge Central New Yorkers to get their flu vaccines and updated COVID booster to protect themselves, their families, and our health-care systems as we head into the holiday season.”