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Cook Children's hospital enacts 'disaster code' to deal with surge in Tarrant County RSV patients

The sign outside Cook Children's Medical Center.
Miranda Suarez
Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.

Children’s hospitals across North Texas are struggling to keep up with an influx in patients as more children are being admitted for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Fort Worth-based Cook Children’s Health Care System enacted a "disaster code" Thursday amid an influx of patients with respiratory syncytial virus — or RSV — along with flu and other respiratory illnesses.

That means the hospital will mobilize more doctors, nurses and other resources to deal with the surge.

“Our staff is overwhelmed," said Kara Starnes, urgent care specialist with Cook Children’s. "They are encountering a lot of frustrated parents."

Hospitals typically see an increase in patients with RSV in the winter, but this year, it started early. The virus causes an infection in the respiratory tract that leads to fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

On Wednesday alone, urgent care centers saw 728 patient visits, Starnes said on a call with reporters Thursday. Each day, Starnes said hospital beds, the emergency department and urgent care centers are full.

"We are full across the entire health care system," Starnes said.

She also urged parents to be patient with health care workers as they treat their children.

"We beg you to please be nice to the people that are working," Starnes said. "They really need your kindness to be able to put one foot in front of another each day.”

Cook Children's is not alone — 95% percent of pediatric beds in North Texas are occupied, according to the DFW Hospital Council.

Wait times for patients can be as long as 12 hours, depending on the severity of symptoms, said Daniel Guzman, an emergency medicine physician with Cook Children's.

“The sheer volume of kids that we are seeing is just unprecedented," Guzman said. "It's one of those things that we used to see a lull throughout the day in the morning, in the afternoon, early afternoon. Right now there is it's a constant flow of patients.”

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Pablo Arauz Peña is the Growth and Infrastructure Reporter for KERA News.