PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order Monday in response to the surge of pediatric cases and hospitalizations of respiratory viruses, including Respiratory Syncytial Virus. 

Cases of the virus, commonly known as RSV, have been rising across Oregon for the last four weeks. Brown said this executive order will give hospitals more flexibility to staff beds for children by allowing them to use a pool of medical volunteer nurses and doctors. 

Parents Sofia and Brody Hollingshead are experiencing this virus firsthand as their newborn twins, Piper and Hans, are at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland on feeding tubes, oxygen, IVs and a ventilator.

“Were just trying to stay strong for our babies because there’s two in there in the hospital,” Sofia told KOIN 6 News. “Definitely the scariest thing we’ve ever been through in our lives.”

As the RSV crisis continues, families with infants who spent time in the NICU after birth are finding themselves back in the hospital.

“Oregon – along with other parts of the country – has been seeing rapidly increasing RSV activity, the most common cause of severe lower respiratory infection among infants and young children,” said Tom Jeanne with the Oregon Health Authority.

Since the onset of RSV season in late October, pediatric hospitalizations in Oregon have more than tripled. The increase prompted the OHA to send an alert to hospitals and doctors statewide, urging them to prepare their pediatric intensive care units.

“RSV can cause severe illness in both young children and the elderly,” Jeanne said. “Children younger than 2, and especially infants younger than 6 months, as well as children with underlying medical issues are at increased risk for hospitalization.”

RSV is transmitted through respiratory droplets, direct contact and touching contaminated surfaces. It spreads through virus-containing respiratory droplets produced from coughing and sneezing. The CDC says almost all children will have had an RSV infection by their second birthday.  

Sofia and Brody encourage parents to take steps to keep kids and babies healthy.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience what we’re experiencing and hopefully nothing worse than what we’re experiencing now,” Brody told KOIN 6 News.

GoFundMe for Piper and Hans

They added it’s sad to see the sick kids and families still waiting for a hospital bed.

Symptoms of RSV

RSV is common and typically presents itself with cold-like symptoms. People suffering from it often experience a runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can be more severe for young babies, especially premature infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, or anyone with a weak immune system.

In severe cases, an RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Symptoms to watch for include fever, severe cough, wheezing, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and a bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen. 

Infants are most severely affected by RSV. Symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants include short, shallow and rapid breathing; struggling to breathe; cough; poor feeding; unusual tiredness; and irritability. 

Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two.

Some children with RSV may be at increased risk of developing a bacterial infection, such as an ear infection. Call your doctor if your child has:

  • Symptoms that worsen or do not start to improve after 7 days
  • A fever (with a rectal temperature of 100.4°F or higher) and they are younger than 3 months of age (12 weeks).
  • A fever that rises above 104°F repeatedly for a child of any age.
  • Poor sleep or fussiness, chest pain, ear tugging or ear drainage

Gov. Brown’s executive order

Oregon only has two pediatric specialty hospitals in the state: OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel. There are also pediatric ICU beds at Providence St. Vincent Hospital. 

Brown said this executive action will help ensure hospitals have what they need to care for sick children. 

“As the country faces a surge in pediatric RSV cases, we want to make sure Oregon’s hospitals have access to the tools they need to provide care for sick kids,” she said. 

The Oregon Health Authority encourages everyone to stay up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, to keep children home when they are sick, to clean and disinfect surfaces that get touched often, and to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. 

Anyone with questions about their child’s care should call their health care provider or visit an urgent care center. The governor’s office asks parents to only bring their children to the hospital if they are showing signs of severe illness.

‘RSV crisis did not happen suddenly’

The Oregon Nurses Association said it supports the governor’s executive order, but said it’s disappointed the state agencies, including Oregon Health Authority, were not more proactive in implementing public health interventions to mitigate the emergency. 

“The RSV crisis did not happen suddenly. In fact, it has been building over the past weeks and months. Yet we have not seen robust public health interventions that would have mitigated this crisis and prevented more Oregonians from getting sick, including public health campaigns focused on parents and schools asking them to keep children home if they are sick or show signs of illness,” ONA wrote in a press release. 

The association said the state could have also encouraged mask use, handwashing and practicing social distancing. 

The dramatic increase in RSV cases comes when Oregon’s hospitals are already facing a nurse staffing crisis, ONA said. 

The nursing organization is calling on hospitals to delay all elective surgeries during the surge in respiratory illnesses. It’s also asking hospitals to incentivize nurses who agree to work the extra shifts that are needed to address the crisis. The organization would also like more support from ancillary and administrative staff. 

ONA said this is the beginning of what will likely be a 12-week-long surge and suggests everyone takes steps to protect themselves and their children from exposure to RSV, COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.