California hospitals using overflow stores for growing number of flu patients

Several Southern California hospitals have begun using tents outside emergency rooms to deal with a growing number of patients with the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

The San Diego-Union Tribune reported Friday that tents have been set up at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, UC San Diego Health’s Jacobs Medical Center in La Jolla and Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa to handle an increase in respiratory illnesses.

Scripps hospitals and doctors’ offices have reported 1,695 positive flu tests since September. 1, compared to 471 in the same period a year ago.

A patient receives a dose of vaccine during a flu vaccination campaign.

A patient receives a dose of vaccine during a flu vaccination campaign.
(Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

The move comes amid an increase in flu symptoms in emergency room patients in San Diego County. About 9 percent of those patients had flu symptoms last week, up from 7 percent two weeks ago, according to a county report.

The San Diego-Union Tribune also reported an increase in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, though not as quickly, according to the county’s weekly respiratory disease report.

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“The fear is that everything is bouncing off everything else and once you’ve gotten through the flu, you can still get hit by COVID or whatever virus you’re going to get,” said Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, chief medical officer of acute care operations and clinical excellence at Scripps Health.

“I’m hopeful, but we’re still planning it’s going to be like this until February,” Sharieff said.

A pharmacist administers a free flu shot to a customer at a CVS Health Corp.  Pharmacy in Miami, Florida, USA, on Wednesday, September.  30, 2020. CVS Health Corp.  said this month that it plans to vaccinate up to 18 million people.

A pharmacist administers a free flu shot to a customer at a CVS Health Corp. Pharmacy in Miami, Florida, USA, on Wednesday, September. 30, 2020. CVS Health Corp. said this month that it plans to vaccinate up to 18 million people.
(Photographer: Marco Bello/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In general, the flu hits hardest from late December through February.

The southern hemisphere also faced an earlier than usual flu season. Chile’s flu positivity rates reached epidemic thresholds as early as January, several months earlier than usual.

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Health experts said it was not immediately clear whether flu cases would peak earlier than usual in California, which typically sees the bulk of cases from December to February, or a prolonged flu season.

Nurses prepare flu vaccine shots during a flu shot clinic at Dorchester House, a health care clinic, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Nurses prepare flu vaccine shots during a flu shot clinic at Dorchester House, a health care clinic, in Boston, Massachusetts.
(Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Much of the United States is seeing a fast start to the flu season. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said more cases of the flu are being reported than typically expected at this time.

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On Friday, the CDC reported that flu and similar viral illnesses are notably high in Georgia, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, DC.

“Early increases in seasonal flu activity continue across the country. Southeast and south-central areas of the country are seeing the highest levels of activity followed by the Mid-Atlantic and South-Central West Coast regions.” the CDC said.

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Most of them are influenza A, specifically a strain called H3N2. While any version of the flu can be dangerous in vulnerable populations, this strain is known to cause more serious illness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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