The White House will not declare a public health emergency over a reported increase of childhood respiratory viruses this season, coming after two pediatric health groups requested one earlier this month.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told news outlets this week that no emergency will be declared amid a reported surge in seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
“We have offered jurisdictions support confronting the impact of RSV and influenza and stand ready to provide assistance to communities who are in need of help on a case-by-case basis,” an HHS spokeswoman said in response to calls to declare an emergency. The Epoch Times has contacted the health agency for comment on Friday.
“We encourage people to follow everyday preventive actions, including avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when sick, covering coughs and sneezes … national public health emergencies are determined based on nationwide data, science trends, and the insight of public health experts,” the official said.
Earlier in November, the heads of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) sent a letter to the Biden administration and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to ask the White House to issue a public health emergency declaration. That would grant more flexibility and funding to hospitals, which the two organizations say have been overburdened with RSV and influenza cases.
“We need emergency funding support and flexibilities along the same lines of what was provided to respond to COVID surges,” the organizations wrote.
Without providing specific data such as the number of cases or hospitalizations, they also asked the federal government “to declare an emergency to support the national response to the alarming surge of pediatric hospitalizations due to pediatric respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza along with the continuing children’s mental health emergency.”
RSV is described as a common respiratory illness that is usually mild and causes cold-like symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. However, officials warn it could cause complications in very young children and elderly people.
Between 58,000 to 80,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized every year with RSV, according to data provided CDC. Approximately 500 U.S. deaths from the virus are reported annually, it shows.
A doctor near New York City noted that the surge in childhood viruses this year is likely caused by COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that were issued over the past three years or so.
“Over the past couple of years, we instituted restrictions on our behavior [because of the pandemic]—masking, social distancing, school closures,” he said. “There was very little transmission of these easily transmissible respiratory viruses,” Dr. James Schneider, the chief of the pediatric intensive care unit at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens, told the New York Post earlier in November.
Right now, he added that “there’s not as much immunity in the community” to RSV.
Since early 2020, the United States has been under a public health emergency for COVID-19. In recent years, the United States has issued emergencies for swine flu, zika virus, monkeypox, and the opioid epidemic.
Last week, HHS officials indicated that the current 90-day emergency will be renewed when its expiration date comes in January. Several days ago, meanwhile, the Biden administration signaled it would attempt to enforce penalties against Medicare- and Medicaid-funded health care facilities that do not get their staff vaccinated for COVID-19.
That vaccine mandate was implemented in late 2021 after a widely criticized announcement from President Joe Biden that his administration would also attempt to penalize businesses with 100 or more employees that do not mandate COVID-19 vaccines. Months later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the rule for private businesses but left the rule targeting health care workers intact.
Across the United States, thousands of health care workers such as nurses, doctors, and other staff have either quit or resigned from their jobs due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. This week, some hospitals and local governments issued warnings about low staffing due to the spike in influenza and RSV cases.
For example, officials in Minnesota told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press that there have been staffing shortages across the state.
“I am worried about hospital capacity, especially pediatrics, which is very tight right now,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a state epidemiologist, told the outlet. “That’s why we need to do everything we can to protect one another.”