Hospitals Are Bracing For COVID, RSV And The Flu Amid The Holidays

Learn how to protect yourself, plus get a couple of other wellness tips to make Thanksgiving a safe and healthy one.
Posted at 8:33 PM, Nov 22, 2022

For the first time since 2020, many health experts say a big Thanksgiving get together, with multiple generations, can be safe. 

"It's not should or shouldn’t you? You absolutely should go, if you know, if you're not at extreme risk. Go enjoy your family, enjoy your friends," said Dr. Khalilah L. Gates, a doctor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. 

Respiratory viruses still thrive as the weather gets cold and we’re inside — even more so in groups. Health experts say we should still take precautions. Federal officials are doubling down on updated COVID vaccines as the winter holiday season is about to start. The Biden administration has announced a six week campaign focused on getting updated boosters in the arms of seniors and communities hit hardest by COVID. 

"So my message, may be the final message I give you from this podium is that you, your family get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser. 

A new CDC report shows updated bivalent COVID boosters do better at keeping COVID symptoms away than the original versions of the shots.  

But the timing is important. If you got a COVID or a flu shot today, it would offer little protection at a big Thanksgiving get together a couple of days away. It would help for late December and January.

Experts say the more people who take precautions, the fewer hospitals will be overwhelmed by COVID, RSV or the flu. Some states are already stressed. In California, 12 children's hospitalsserving LA are running at 70% capacity or higher.  

Colorado has activated its emergency program, which makes patient transfers easier. In Virginia, ER visits for RSV have quadrupled since September.  

CDC data shows nationwide RSV is sending adults 65 and older to the hospital at higher rates too. 

"The number of beds available is fewer than it was prior to the start of this surge because there are more patients filling them up," said Julian Walker, the vice president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. 

"RSV is still out there primarily impacting the youngest kids and the elderly. What we know is RSV spreads a lot through surfaces. So washing hands, keeping surfaces clean, that can make a difference," said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, on CNN. 

As for precautions, there are the basics we’ve heard a lot the past few years: handwashing, well-fitted N95 masks, vaccines, avoiding large crowds and social distancing. 

Indoor air quality during a last-minute grocery run — especially if the store is packed — could make or break getting sick. One team of Colorado journalists took carbon monoxide detectors to different stores. The small devices measure CO2 concentration: the higher the numbers, the more people are exhaling which could include virus particles.  

Important to note — there's always lots of variables here. But they found smaller stores with low ceilings and tight aisles had about 1.5 times more CO2 than stores with high ceilings and more space. 

Most important: if you're sick, stay at home.  

Imagine you or your child were sick, say last Friday or Saturday. The CDC says with RSV you’re contagious for three to eight days. With the flu and COVID, you are looking at waiting until five days have passed, or until 24 hours after your fever has gone away, assuming you're feeling better. And mask until day 10. You can take an at-home COVID test before you head out the door.