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Statewide flu activity level rises as available pediatric ICU beds decrease

Flu activity levels have increased from “moderate” to “high” in California as available pediatric ICU hospital beds decrease, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) officials said Tuesday.

“RSV and flu, and now COVID-19, are on the rise — leading to the hospitalization of our youngest and most vulnerable Californians who need all of us to help protect them,” said State Public Health Officer and CDPH Director Dr. Tomás Aragón.

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From July 3 to Nov. 26, 12,946 cases of the flu were reported in San Diego County. This November had the highest number of flu cases in at least a decade with 8,800. More than half of the county’s influenza cases this season are in those ages 17 and under.

California hospitals are working to increase pediatric beds, a release from CDPH stated, as the number of children needing hospitalization is outpacing hospitals’ ability to expand.

Hospitals usually have 35% to 40% open pediatric ICU beds, according to CDPH. That number is currently at 20% statewide and even below 12% in some regions of California.

Local hospital officials from Sharp HealthCare, Kaiser Permanente San Diego and Rady Children’s told KPBS they’re not expanding right now. Representatives from Sharp and Kaiser said they are prepared to do so if necessary. Dr. Omar Khawaja, chief medical officer of Palomar Health, said the hospital isn't expanding pediatric beds for this crisis, but have been generally. Their new pediatric in-patient service won't be ready for this current flu season.

A spokesperson from Scripps Health said they do not have pediatric hospital beds. A UC San Diego Health representative said they're not licensed for pediatric beds except in special circumstances, such as with pediatric burn patients.

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COVID-19, the flu and RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) have San Diego health officials concerned about a "tripledemic" this winter. San Diego County hospitals have been preparing for surges in admissions following the Thanksgiving holiday.