Multnomah County Health strongly recommends that everyone wear masks indoors as viruses are on the rise

December 2, 2022

Multnomah County health officials are urging everyone, including K-12 schools and child care centers, to wear masks in public indoor spaces until at least January 1, 2023 due to the rise in respiratory winter viruses.

The recommendation is voluntary, and organizations are not expected to change their masking policies, health official Dr. Jennifer Wein said Thursday. But action is needed to slow the flow of sick children into Portland Hospital’s emergency rooms and pediatric intensive care units.

“All of our emergency departments are full,” Dr. Vince said in a press conferenceDecember 1. “Hospitals and emergency care are at risk of being overwhelmed by the supplies we have locally.”

Respiratory viruses such as RSV and influenza usually increase in winter. They are especially dangerous this year after school and childcare closures in 2020 and 2021 unusually suppressed the usual cycle of babies, toddlers and young parents being exposed to RSV and developing stronger immunity for the following season.

Instead, children under five, who have never encountered ordinary RSV, appear to be particularly severely affected. And older children and adults also spread the disease.

In a Dec. 1 email to Portland school superintendents, Dr. Vince and Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey recommended that everyone wear masks to “support hospitals and keep children and staff well enough to continue attending school in person.” .

Although the number of RSV cases “may be nearing its peak,” Dr. Vines said the flu is still on the rise, infecting the elderly and the elderly. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also on the rise.

According to the email, Dr. Vines and Guernsey recommend that people:

  • Stay up to date on the flu and Covid vaccines.
  • Wash your hands well and often.
  • Disinfect shared surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • People at high risk of severe illness, avoid large gatherings.
  • Have hand sanitizer readily available.

Dr. Vines said everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated against flu and COVID, and anyone living with someone younger than 6 months should be vaccinated. “It’s never too late to start a series of vaccines.”

While hand washing and using hand sanitizer have become common practice, now more than ever they play an important role in preventing RSV. Dr. Vines said RSV can remain on unwashed hands and surfaces, and frequent hand washing and wiping surfaces can help prevent infection.

Local pediatricians weigh in

Dr. Vines was joined in her call to action by two of the top pediatricians in the state, Dr. Wendy Hasson and Dr. Carl Erickson.

Hasson, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Randall Children’s Hospital, said, “Randall [Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel] is seeing historic numbers not only in admissions but also in emergency room visits.”

According to Dr. Hasson, RSV and influenza are familiar viral disease processes for the pediatric care community, and emphasized that the crisis is not one of disease, but rather of resources.

“What you can do as a member of the community is to prevent the full need for care.”

As a parent of two young children, including a baby, Hasson said she personally wears a mask when in public and has her preschooler wash her hands frequently.

Only about 10 percent of sick children who come to the emergency room are admitted to a hospital, she said. Many have fevers that can be treated with Tylenol, for example. But it’s often hard for worried parents to understand. She recommends parents look for these three things when deciding to take their children to the emergency room:

  1. See how hard the child is breathing; check if they use any muscles between their ribs or under their neck.
  2. Determine if the child is dehydrated, needs less than three diapers a day.
  3. Check their alertness level. If the child is not interested in eating or playing between fevers.

According to Dr. Hasson, if a child meets all three, they should be seen in the emergency room.

Doernbecher Pediatrician Dr. Carl Erickson said hospitals are doing their best to provide the help they need with the resources they have, and parents may be waiting longer in the waiting room.

Dr. Erickson said Doernbecher uses all physical beds in the ICU and will begin using physical beds outside of the ICU, and they are continually identifying children who can be well served outside of the children’s hospital, such as older teenagers, for whom they can to take care of beds for adults.

“We want to avoid a situation where we are unable to provide care for the children who need it,” said Doernbecher Pediatrician Dr. Carl Erickson.

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