Merced County Times Newspaper
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Addressing The Wave of Pediatric Illness (Surge) In This Region


Although all age groups are affected by winter viruses, this year we are seeing a critical situation in Merced County for infants and children. This region’s hospitals have been filled to capacity with: emergency rooms overflowing, long waiting room times, and anxious parents waiting for their children to be seen. In these situations, this is referred to as a surge.

The Situation:

This season, we are seeing a Tripledemic which refers to much higher than expected rates of illnesses impacting the population. An epidemic usually refers to one disease while a Tripledemic is three diseases. In this case, those diseases are Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Influenza (flu), and COVID-19. We are seeing extremely high rates in the transmission of these diseases coming at a time of: holiday travel, gatherings, school breaks, relaxed masking and distancing requirements, and cold weather which drives us to mix indoors. Additionally, the population is experiencing fatigue from the nearly three years of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past two winters, there was a minimal transmission of flu and RSV primarily due to masking requirements against COVID-19. That has all changed now. The San Joaquin Valley continues to experience higher rates of infection than the rest of the state. This is due, in large part, to hospital accessibility and distance from regions that have more healthcare resources.

With influenza, we are seeing infections much earlier in the year than we have seen in previous years. In addition, the flu is affecting more severely the elderly and the very young, often too young to be vaccinated (with vaccinations available to those 6 months or older). We are seeing levels approaching those of 2016-2017, which was a particularly bad and deadly season. Fortunately, the influenza vaccine this year is a very good match to what international partners had anticipated and is giving very good protection against the flu. In addition, vaccination of pregnant moms-to-be is safe and protects newborn babies who are too young to be protected with vaccination.

While many think COVID-19 is a distant memory, there has been a statewide, national, and international resurgence of COVID. The danger with COVID-19 is how quickly the virus mutates which allows for: easier transmission and spread to the unvaccinated, to those who have reduced protection and haven’t been boosted, and to the elderly and immunocompromised.

What Is Being Done:

Hospitals such as Mercy Merced Medical Center are looking into expanding pediatric capacity by various means, including the opening of new observation areas to watch infants and children before releasing them home. Many of the actions that hospitals are taking are being done to relieve pressure on Valley Children’s Hospital to handle the sickest children.

Outpatient medical providers and urgent care facilities are encouraged to see and/or triage children with respiratory illnesses. A list of available urgent care locations and hours of operation hours can be found online at under Additional Resources.

COVID and Flu testing are available in the parking lot across the street from the Public Health Department on the corner of D and 15th Streets in Merced. Testing is available, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The site is closed on Saturday and Sunday. If a person tests positive, healthcare personnel is able to refer treatment for COVID.

In summary, winter is here. We are seeing a much higher than usual rate of respiratory illness, so take the time to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones. The Merced County Department of Public Health would like to wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season.

Dr. Sandoval is the appointed Health Officer for Merced County.


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