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As pediatric respiratory illnesses surge, Pittsburgh children's hospital opens ER tent

Patrick Doyle
90.5 WESA
For the second year in a row, UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has erected a tent outside its ER to care for the high number of kids presenting with respiratory illness, including RSV.

For the second year in a row, the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has erected a tent in its ambulance bay to care for surging numbers of kids coming in with respiratory illnesses.

The hospital said in a video on Twitterthat the tent adds up to 10 beds to the department. “This tent is well equipped and fully staffed, enabling us to further streamline our process as we assess the needs of our patients.”

Like last fall, the temporary addition comes due to longer ER wait times, which have recently exceeded eight hours. The need for additional space is mostly caused by young patients seeking treatment for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. It usually results in a simple cold but sometimes turns into pneumonia or bronchiolitis. The former is inflammation of the air sacs, and the latter is congestion and inflammation of the small airways.

Though cases spike every year, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that people are getting RSV much earlier this season, and levels are high. Infectious disease experts believe this trend is the result of a so-called immunity gap.

Masking and physical distancing that people undertook to protect from COVID-19 resulted in many kids not being exposed to RSV and other respiratory viruses. Now that those measures have been relaxed, transmission is surging among children who up to now had limited exposure.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.