Respiratory virus hospitalizations expected to severely impact state's hospital capacity

FILE PHOTO. A woman receives the flu vaccine (Photo By Alberto Ortega/Europa Press via Getty Images)

A wave of flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus infections among children is currently outpacing the state's availability of pediatric hospital beds, one of the state's top health officials said Tuesday.  

 Roughly 40 percent of pediatric intensive care unit beds are normally open statewide, but that figure is down to roughly 20 percent and into the teens in some parts of the state.   Respiratory viruses are also affecting older adults in large numbers, according to state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.   

"These (infection) curves are getting steeper each week around flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses," Ghaly said. "Taken separately, these infections are manageable, but when all come together, the difficulty posed to the system is pretty extreme and we're seeing that now."  

 Ghaly noted that indoor gatherings during the holiday season are likely to drive respiratory virus-related hospitalizations even higher into the early weeks of 2023.   

Roughly 6,000 people are currently hospitalized statewide with COVID or the flu. That number is expected to climb as high as 10,000 by the end of 2022 or early January, according to Ghaly.   

"We're clearly preparing for that increase, but there is part of me that's always hopeful that the effect of people seeing what's going on around them and understanding that they can do something very meaningful today to gather safely with members of their family," he said.   

State residents are encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID and the flu and to seek treatment if infected.   

While there is not currently a vaccine for RSV -- which causes infections in the respiratory tract -- the use of a well-fitting mask when indoors can help reduce its spread as well as the spread of COVID, the flu and other respiratory viruses.   

As of Dec. 1, some 72.4 percent of California residents have completed their initial COVID vaccine series. Nearly 20 percent have received the updated booster vaccine, which protects against the initial COVID variant and two strains of the highly contagious omicron variant.   Information about limiting public health risks during the holiday season can be found at