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Pediatric beds full at CMH as respiratory virus ravages region

Cambridge Memorial Hospital has exceeded its capacity; leaving zero pediatric beds as multiple respiratory viruses target the most vulnerable
Cambridge Memorial Hospital is over capacity following a surge of patients with respiratory illness.

Cambridge is starting to see the surge of children's respiratory illness that has swept like a tidal wave through the rest of the province, placing local hospitals and school boards on high alert.

Cambridge Memorial Hospital is operating at over 100 per cent capacity with the hospital now "effectively full," said CMH spokesperson Stephan Beckhoff on Wednesday

In addition to COVID-19 and influenza, another common respiratory illnesses is putting extra pressure on the healthcare system this fall.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is typically found in children and should clear up over a few weeks, but recent cases have been more severe, sending more children to hospital than usual.

“Respiratory cases are up overall,” said Beckhoff. “RSV is not the only thing we are seeing; flu season started early and we are also seeing COVID and pneumonia among other respiratory illnesses.”

CMH is currently operating at 104 per cent capacity with 13 patients in the Emergency Department. There are zero pediatric beds left in the entire hospital.

According to data from the Cambridge hospital, the number of children admitted with respiratory illnesses is up from 87 patients last fiscal year to 124 this year. There are still five months left in the current fiscal year. 

The fear is the situation will only get worse as it's early in the season to see numbers this high.

Grand River Hospital said its pediatric unit is also overflowing with respiratory patients at 150 per cent of capacity.

Manager of health communications and community engagement for Region of Waterloo Public Health Sharon Ord urges anyone experiencing respiratory illness of any kind, COVID, flu or otherwise to stay home.

They should isolate where possible and self monitor for symptoms until they've been improving for at least 24 hours, or 48 hours if experiencing nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

As colder temperatures creep in, respiratory illnesses start to rise, but the increase in RSV is a new phenomenon, said John Shewchuk, chief managing officer for Waterloo Catholic District School Board. 

“Unless a parent reveals the health status of their child, the board has no way of knowing if anyone is ill with RSV,” he added. “It’s the same with COVID-19; last school year the government directed school boards to stop tracking and reporting cases.”

WCDSB has seen an uptick in teacher and student absentees over the last few weeks, but an exact number could not be provided.

Neither school board keeps track of how many kids are off sick and with what, so there is no way to have reliable data, he added.

As more children keep getting sick and hospital beds continue to be unavailable, education providers are relying heavily on parents to disclose any medical illnesses or symptoms before sending their child to school. 

“We need to know about any medical conditions before a child comes into our school,” said  I. Terban, owner of Pluto Daycare. “We’ve already had to send one kid home with these symptoms.”

At Pluto, they are not taking any chances, all of the staff use their masks and quickly send a child home if they are showing any signs of fever or other flu-like symptoms. 

With the increased level of respiratory illnesses spreading across the region, Terban and her team make sure they are doing their best to prevent any other children from getting sick.

“I’ve been in the business for 48 years, but since COVID and this respiratory thing, we are being extra careful to ensure the safety of our children and employees,” she added. “Parents need to let us know what’s going on.”

Earlier this week, Ontario's chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore strongly recommended people take preventative measures, such as wearing a mask to protect those most vulnerable to the virus. 

This comes after hospitals across the province reported higher than usual cases of RSV, combined with COVID cases and seasonal flu patients, in what Moore is calling a “triple-threat.”

But the province's top doctor stopped short of enacting a mask mandate.

Overcrowded emergency rooms are putting an extra stress on healthcare providers that are already dealing with staff shortages. WCDSB will be following the guidelines from public health to make sure students are safe and ease some of the pressure. 

“The decision to wear a mask remains a personal choice,” said WCDSB in a press release. “However, as Dr. Moore notes, it is a way to support partners in our healthcare system as they respond to an increase in pressures caused by the current increase in respiratory illnesses in our communities.”

“If you think your child is sick or they are experiencing some sort of flu symptoms, please keep them home. We need to keep our children safe,” pleaded Terban. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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