SEATTLE — Health leaders in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties Friday recommended masking in indoor public places due to the high level of respiratory viruses currently circulating.
Communities across Washington state and the U.S. are experiencing an unprecedented surge in respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19, according to health officials.
Flu deaths doubled from last week and emergency department visits have surged statewide, according to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
The DOH reported 26 flu deaths Friday as of Dec. 3, including 23 adults and three children, up 13 from the week before.
The DOH also reported over 1,400 new flu cases Friday from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3.
The percentage of emergency department visits for flu-like illness spiked in the weeks since late October reaching nearly 20% in north and central Washington state alongside the Puget Sound area. The percentage of emergency department visits hovered around 3% last flu season in all regions.
Rachel Smart’s two daughters are both recovering from RSV. Her 8-month-old was recently hospitalized with the virus.
“She was struggling to breathe. This virus is extremely hard on children. It’s really really hard on infants and young babies,” said Smart.
Smart rushed her daughter to the ER in Silverdale, where she was told it wasn’t serious enough to be admitted. Things got worse from there. When she returned to the hospital, she was sent to an already full Seattle Children's Hospital.
Smart waited 12 hours in the ER before getting a room.
“We actually had to share it with another baby who had RSV. They said they were so maxed out we would have to share and were just going to put two babies with the same virus in the room.”
Smart said her daughter was in the hospital for two days.
“As a mom, there’s nothing that hurts worse than seeing your child suffer. And it's really challenging when it seems like there's not much that can be done,” said Smart.
Snohomish County Health officials said one reason for the mask recommendation is to try to ease the strain on the health care system. Dr. James Lewis, the Health Officer for Snohomish Health District said the county has been hit hard by RSV and the flu.
“What's unfortunate about the current flu season is that we're seeing a very early peak. So normally, folks have a little bit of time to get their flu vaccines,” said Dr. Lewis.
Dr. Lewis is concerned about the number of flu hospitalizations and notes a shortage of children’s medication like Tylenol and Tamiflu.
“Because people haven’t had flu or RSV nearly as much for the last few years that’s probably contributing to the severity of this flu season and how quickly it’s starting up,” said Dr. Lewis.
Health officials and healthcare leaders recommend residents wear well-fitting high-quality masks when around others indoors and also urge everyone to stay up to date on their vaccinations.
Officials are also recommending residents stay home from school or work if they are sick and to test for COVID-19 if symptoms develop.
The flu is most dangerous for:
- Children under five, especially two years old
- Adults 65 years or older
- Those who are pregnant
- Anyone living with a health condition like asthma, diabetes or heart disease.
More information on flu, RSV, and COVID-19 can be found on the DOH's website.