IWK pediatric ICU over capacity for longer than usual, but surgeries unaffected

IWK pediatric ICU over capacity for longer than usual, but surgeries unaffected

The IWK Health Centre's pediatric intensive care unit has been at 100-160 per cent capacity for the past 11 days as the Halifax children's hospital grapples with a surge in respiratory illnesses and an early start to flu season.

However the IWK has not yet had to cancel any non-urgent surgeries, as some children's hospitals in Ontario have done to redeploy staff to swamped ERs and ICUs.

The Ontario health-care system has also directed general hospitals in recent weeks to accept children 14 years and older who need intensive care, as well as those who have just left a pediatric ICU but need more time to recover.

Similar measures have not been taken in Nova Scotia, but an IWK spokesperson told CBC News in an email there are daily conversations about "proactive responses to mitigate impacts to patients and families and staff."

Ben Maycock said it is not atypical for the pediatric ICU to be at or above capacity at any point in the year, "however this length of time ... is longer than our normal time in overcapacity."

High rates of flu, RSV

In its weekly Respiratory Watch updates, Nova Scotia Public Health is reporting a sharp increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) at this point in the year compared to previous years. RSV causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It can result in severe infection in some people, including babies under two and older adults with pre-existing conditions.

The Respiratory Watch reports include the number of lab-confirmed cases of the virus, so it only captures a percentage of the virus activity. The report does not include COVID-19 numbers, but there were 671 lab-confirmed cases in Nova Scotia for the week ending Nov. 7 according to the provincial dashboard.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, the IWK reported a record number of visitors — 200 — to its emergency department. This past Sunday, on Nov. 13, it was 145 visitors.

Mask wearing encouraged

Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said on Monday people should start wearing masks again in all indoor public settings after children's hospitals became overwhelmed with young patients in emergency departments, pediatric wards and intensive care units.

In Nova Scotia, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang has always recommended wearing a mask to "minimize any potential impact from respiratory viruses."

On Monday, Nova Scotia infectious diseases expert Dr. Lisa Barrett said wearing a mask has some benefit to your health "even if you're the only person doing it, but it certainly is a more effective tool indoors, in public places if more people wear them."