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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

It's tough to breathe easy this holiday season

MetroHealth sign in front of the MetroHealth main campus in Cleveland, Ohio
Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
Doctors urge people to get vaccinated for the flu, keep sick kids home as hospitals become strained.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and all of a sudden it seems like everyone’s getting sick. COVID-19 screwed up my impression of when virus season starts, but I thought, “Isn’t the flu supposed to come in the winter? Doesn’t everyone usually get sick after the holidays?”

I’ve been talking with doctors and public health experts who have confirmed I’m not crazy. Viruses have arrived early this year and already have stretched some hospital resources thin.

At an Ohio Department of Health news conference on Tuesday, pediatric hospitals in Northeast Ohio said that they’re overwhelmed by large numbers of seriously ill children. Some Ohio hospitals are even canceling surgeries and rejecting patient transfer requests from other states. I’ve reported that some patients have been waiting up to 8-10 hours in Northeast Ohio ERs.

It’s what doctors were afraid of when they warned of a coming “tripledemic”– respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19 possibly overlapping and making a lot of people sick this fall and winter.

Health experts say it’s unusual for so many viruses to hit at once. RSV is a seasonal illness that sickens kids every year. They don’t know exactly why its raging now, but doctors think it may have something to do with the fact that COVID-19 kept many of us separated and wearing masks in 2020, so RSV had less chance to spread. Doctors say pregnant mothers and infants not having the antibodies from exposure to the virus during that year could mean they’re more susceptible to it now.

By public health officials’ expectations, this is also the start of a bad flu season. UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital Dr. Claudia Hoyen said we are already seeing many flu admissions to our area hospitals. Cuyahoga County, sadly, counted its first pediatric flu death of the year last week after a 13-year-old boy died.

RSV and the flu can be serious for children, so hospitals are warning parents to watch to see whether their child has trouble breathing, severe dehydration or discoloration of the skin, among other symptoms. At the same time, we’re all well aware of the danger of hospitals filling up as we saw when COVID-19 peaked, so doctors are suggesting people to reach out to their primary care physicians before their child is so sick they need to go to the ER.

The message I keep hearing from doctors is that it’s important to stay vigilant and there are some things you can to do to keep your community safe. This year’s flu shot seems pretty effective at keeping the virus at bay. Common sense strategies like keeping your kid home if they’re sick, handwashing and wearing a mask when you can will also help stop spread.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year, including three healthy grandparents. I’m excited to drive home and bake my favorite pies (key lime and apple) with them next week, so I know I’ll feel a lot more comfortable wearing a mask this week, just to be safe.

"The Cut" is featured in Ideastream Public Media's weekly newsletter, The Frequency Week in Review. To get The Frequency Week in Review, The Daily Frequency or any of our newsletters, sign up on Ideastream's newsletter subscription page.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.