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‘Triple-Demic’ Overwhelming Kansas City Hospitals

Doctors and other experts nationwide are concerned. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association called on the federal government to declare a public health emergency in order to support a national response to the alarming rise in viral illnesses.

Children’s Mercy Hospital building in Kansas City on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Children’s Mercy Hospital officials warn that the hospital is experiencing an overwhelming number of patients with respiratory illnesses.
Emily Curiel/
(TNS) - Children’s Mercy Hospital officials announced Thursday that respiratory illnesses — particularly the flu and a virus called RSV — are severely impacting children in the Kansas City area. Local experts also warn that the viruses are causing illness among seniors.

“We are at capacity,” said Jennifer Watts, the hospital’s chief emergency management medical officer, in a news conference Thursday. “Our staff keeps showing up every day, and they keep picking up extra shifts to make sure that we can take care of these kids. I will tell you, though, that it’s exhausting.”

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common cause of illness in young children. At its mildest, it causes temporary cold-like symptoms — but at its most severe, it can require patients to be intubated to help them breathe.

Watts noted that this year’s viral surge is happening during an already difficult flu season. When combined with staffing shortages across the health care industry and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the so-called “triple-demic” is straining medical facilities in the metro and beyond.

“We have 15 children waiting to get beds in our emergency department right now,” Watts said. “We can’t refer them anywhere else, because there are no beds in the region.”

How bad is the current wave of RSV and the flu?

Doctors and other experts nationwide are concerned. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association called on the federal government to declare a public health emergency in order to support a national response to the alarming rise in viral illnesses. And children aren’t the only ones affected.

“We’re seeing literally 10 times the incidence of RSV hospitalizations in seniors than what we typically would this time of year,” said Dr. Anthony Healy, medical director at the Dedicated Senior Medical Center in the Seven Oaks neighborhood of Kansas City.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services noted that cases of the flu are also on the rise in the state.

“For the week of Oct. 30 through Nov. 5, there were 1,738 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu, compared to 1,280 cases the week before,” the department wrote in a Tuesday press release.

While the state doesn’t track case numbers for RSV, individual hospitals do: Children’s Mercy has identified 314 cases in just the past week. Over 40% of patients the hospital has screened for RSV so far this year have tested positive.

“We have more RSV cases than we have had in previous years for sure,” Watts said. “The impact on the health care system is the cumulative effect of everything hitting all at the same time.”

Reported COVID-19 case numbers are holding steady in the metro, with almost the exact same number of new cases reported on Tuesday, Nov. 15 as were reported a week earlier. However, many new COVID-19 cases are not reported due to home testing.

How can I keep my loved ones safe from RSV, the flu and COVID-19?

Healy said that common-sense measures like covering coughs, handwashing and staying away from others when sick can help prevent the spread of these illnesses — especially during holiday gatherings.

“In spite of our exhaustion with all those safety measures, we still need to be cautious, and very mindful of our high risk seniors,” he told The Star. “For seniors, a lot of times what we recommend is what’s called the high dose (flu) vaccine…. We have to give them a larger dose so that they can build those antibodies for a longer period of time.”

Watts also urged parents to get their children vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19. While a vaccine for RSV does exist, she said that it’s usually only used on premature infants.

“Influenza and COVID-19 are illnesses that have vaccines available — they are safe, they are effective,” she said. “Any child six months and older is eligible for both.”

Other tips included encouraging frequent hand-washing and caring for sick children at home if possible. Watts recommended fever reducers like Tylenol, encouraging sick kids to drink lots of clear liquids and consulting your family’s pediatrician about managing the symptoms of viral illness.

Children’s Mercy also has a nurse advice line for parents to call if they aren’t sure whether their child needs more intensive care. You can call it 24/7 at 816-234-3188.

How can I tell which illness is impacting my loved ones?

COVID-19, RSV and the flu can have similar symptoms, and may even occur at the same time as one another. To know for sure whether you, your child or a senior in your life is experiencing one or more of these illnesses, testing is available around the metro.

View a map of the state-sponsored testing sites in  Missouri  here. These sites use one nasal swab to test for all three of the “triple-demic” viruses, and are available for free with no insurance information collected. The three in the Kansas City area are:

  • Operating Engineers Local #101 at  6601 Winchester Ave.  #280, open on Saturdays from  10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
  • Heavy Construction Laborers Local #663 parking lot at  7820 Prospect Ave., open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from  10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
  • Super Flea parking lot at 6200 Saint John, open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from  10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

You can also get only a COVID-19 test at many CVS, Quest and Walgreens locations mapped here and at other independent testing sites mapped here. You can also get flu shots and COVID-19 booster shots at CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacies in the metro.

Do you have more questions about viral disease in Kansas City ? Ask the Service Journalism team at

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