What some are calling a “tripledemic” of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID, has arrived in Nova Scotia. The flu and RSV are impacting young children (preschool age and below) in particular, leaving the already strained children’s acute care system even more burdened. Across the province, pediatric units are “stretched, stretched, stretched,” Dr. Andrew Lynk, chair and chief of pediatrics at the IWK Health Centre, said in a news conference Thursday. “These are at historic levels that I've never seen before in my career here since 1990.”
Lynk says a busy day at the IWK used to mean seeing 120-140 children in emergency, and now health-care staff are seeing 150-180 and up to 200 consistently, meaning hours and hours in the waiting room for parents and their sick kids.
“There's little babies and even four year olds in with RSV who are in the intensive care unit. We have other kids in with flu now in the intensive care unit. We can prevent some of this. Not all of it, but we can prevent some of this.”
“It's gonna get worse before it gets better,” Lynk says. In order to take pressure off the health-care system, he urges all Nova Scotians to get both COVID and flu shots, and for parents to get their kids, especially those under five, vaccinated. He estimates under 10% of children under five have gotten a flu shot this year.
“And for heaven's sakes for parents, if you've got babies or infants or toddlers, and you don't have to take them to the snotty nose cousin's house to play or visit, then don't do it. Please just don't do it right now.”
He also tells parents not to use the emergency room for primary care right now. “Let's all pitch in together; we really need everybody's help over the next four to eight weeks—spread the joy not the viruses over Christmas.”
Dr. Robert Strang was also at the news conference to give guidance to Nova Scotians as we enter the winter whirlwind of (un)wellness. He notes the flu season has begun six to eight weeks earlier than usual. Strang implores people to stay at home when sick, “if at all possible,” even if symptoms are mild. He called on employers to offer remote work options, paid sick days and to “please stop asking people for sick notes; this is an unnecessary pressure on the health-care system.”
While NS Public Health “continues to encourage people to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces,” Strang also asks Nova Scotians to to wear a mask if they have any cold-y or flu-y symptoms and need to leave the house, and for a few days after recovering from illness. “What I want people to really emphasize on is where it's absolutely critical and essential that they wear a mask and do it,” he says.
This does not mean a mask mandate is being reinstated. Strang says a mandate would be too heavy-handed and that talking about one “is a distraction.” And mask mandates don’t apply anyway in the places respiratory viruses are spreading, like at-home gatherings, he explains.
“Mask mandates were used at a specific time during the pandemic, when there were high levels of circulating virus and a population which was very susceptible to disease. That is no longer the case,” Strang says. “For mask mandates to be effective, there needs to be widespread public buy-in and we no longer have that in Nova Scotia.”
Strang notes “our COVID activity is actually quite low and continues to decline.” Lynks says he thinks one in 40 Nova Scotians are actively infected. If that’s true, roughly 25,000 people have the virus.
“It's critically important that people understand the current and the potential stresses on our health-care system. And each Nova Scotian can play a substantive role in decreasing those pressures, and also keep themselves and their community safe by following all the measures we're outlining. I don't know how I can stress it more strongly that we need everybody to listen and act for the next two to three months,” Strang says.