Children’s Minnesota warns parents to expect longer wait times due to RSV surge

Children's Minnesota is warning parents that they should be prepared for longer wait times due to the surge of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and other respiratory illnesses.

Information from Children’s Minnesota’s website warns of extended wait times in the emergency department, walk-in clinics, and primary care clinics. 

Health officials with Children’s said families should not let the longer wait times prevent them from bringing their children to the hospital if they have severe symptoms. However, they should know that families will not necessarily be treated in the order in which they arrived in the emergency room and will instead be prioritized based on the severity of symptoms.

Other local health systems were reporting wait times of more than two hours at certain urgent care locations Sunday afternoon.

The surge of RSV came early this year and hit hard, as sick children fill up emergency rooms around the country. 

"The biggest impact has been in the wait times in our emergency departments and clinic areas," said Caroline Njau, senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Children's Minnesota.

Njau said wait times do vary based on the time of day and day of the week.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows a seven-day average of 1 percent of pediatric beds available in the Metro.

Njau said RSV typically presents as a cold, meaning it will often resolve on its own, but that's not always the case.

"If your child has a fever, if they're fast breathing, if they have symptoms of dehydration – meaning that they are having fewer diapers – if you notice that their skin color is changing to a gray-bluish tint on the tongues and lips and skin, definitely seek care," she said.

Children's Minnesota said children with RSV are typically sick for a full week with Days 3-4 being the peak before they get better. Mild symptoms can be treated at urgent care or at home using over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen. But if a child has life-threatening symptoms, please call 911.

Hospitals do anticipate respiratory viruses in the fall, but this RSV season started sending children to the hospital months earlier than usual, in part because the pandemic changed viral activity.

Now, on top of RSV, hospitals are treating the flu, as well.

"Typically, we go through RSV and then flu starts to show up, and so we're starting to see a little bit of both. And that's, again, where we keep talking about (how) those flu shots will really help build immunity for children," Njau said.