White House resists declaring emergency as flu and viruses surge in children

The White House is resisting calls from pediatric health groups to declare a national emergency due to the early upsurge in respiratory illnesses among children.

As seasonal flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), coronavirus and other respiratory viruses sweep the country, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Children’s Hospitals argue that an emergency declaration, which would grant providers additional funding and greater flexibility over regulation, is the best and fastest way to help the overburdened healthcare system.

In a letter sent to President Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra last week, the two organizations said the “unprecedented levels” of RSV and the increase in influenza infections warrant a double declaration of national emergency as well as a public health emergency.

“We need emergency financial support and flexibilities along the lines of what has been provided to respond to COVID surges,” the organizations wrote.

But the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has indicated that a national emergency is not necessary at this time.

“We have offered jurisdictions support to deal with the impact of RSV and influenza and stand ready to provide assistance to communities that need help on a case-by-case basis,” a spokeswoman for the office said. HHS.

“We encourage people to follow daily preventative actions, including avoiding close contact with sick people, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying up to date on their vaccines against flu and COVID-19 to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. . National public health emergencies are determined based on national data, scientific trends and the insight of public health experts,” she added.

In a call with reporters earlier this month, administration health officials said the federal government was working with state and local partners to ease capacity issues in hospitals as respiratory illnesses surge. .

When a jurisdiction’s demand exceeds its capabilities and available resources, the federal government could step in and help with personnel and supplies, said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

Supplies such as ventilators and personal protective equipment are available through the National Strategic Stockpile, O’Connell said, but no state has yet requested that level of support.

The offers of support — and calls for more — come as hospitals are at capacity, beds are scarce and staffing shortages are pushing the workforce to breaking point. In some cases, even though hospitals have beds available, there are not enough doctors, nurses or respiratory therapists to staff them.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hospitalization rate for all children for the week of Nov. 12 peaked at 17.5 per 100,000, twice as high as any other season on record.

Capacity constraints in children’s hospitals and pediatric practices result in more children being cared for in community and adult hospitals, which may have limited or no capacity.

Amy Knight, president of the Children’s Hospital Association, said an emergency declaration makes it easier for hospitals to add pediatric beds in places not typically used for inpatients, such as a treatment room or a game room.

“From a regulatory standpoint, that’s not a good thing. When you have a public health emergency, you’re allowed to… make those kinds of decisions,” Knight said. “It ultimately creates a lot of possibilities for children’s hospitals to do the right thing for patients, regardless of typical regulatory bureaucratic constraints.”

Last week, Oregon became the first state to declare an emergency in response to the RSV surge.

With only two hospitals in the state with a pediatric intensive care unit, Governor Kate Brown (D) said the order will give hospitals additional flexibility for staff beds for children and allow them to tap into a pool of medical volunteer nurses and doctors and to take other measures. to provide care to pediatric patients.

The United States has been under a public health emergency for COVID-19 since 2020, and it has been renewed every 90 days. Other emergencies in recent years include the opioid epidemic, monkeypox, Zika, and H1N1 swine flu.

Public health experts have said the United States has wisely declared emergencies outside of specific cases such as natural disasters, but the ongoing COVID-19 emergency has drawn more attention to the process.

“COVID has led to greater awareness of this possibility and potentially a greater desire to try to use it from advocacy groups and others,” said Jen Kates, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“And I think that speaks to the fact that, you know, it’s very difficult to bring attention to public health crises and resources are limited. The letter from the pediatric groups is really a wake-up call that there is a public health emergency they feel they are dealing with, and there just aren’t enough resources,” Kates said.

Amesh Adalja, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said waivers and flexibilities that occur during a public health emergency should become the status quo.

“I think that’s the problem. Not so much that they’re asking that, but why do they have to keep asking that? said Adalja.

“That threshold to call an emergency declaration, I think that’s really a testament to the fact that our health care system, our public health system, is not able to adequately respond quickly enough to an infectious disease emergency through it. -same.”

White House resists declaring emergency as flu and viruses surge in children

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