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While deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continue to decline across the country, several local hospitals, including Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, are reporting such high numbers of respiratory illnesses that they have begun using overflow tents outside their normal emergency department buildings to handle a current increase.

The number of San Diego County emergency room patients with flu-like symptoms increased to 9%, up to percentage points from two weeks ago. COVID-19 symptoms also are increasing, slower than flu symptoms, according to the county’s weekly respiratory illness report.

“The fear is that everything is just sort of bouncing off everything else and once you’ve been through the flu you could still get hit by COVID or whatever other virus you’re going to get,” said Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, chief medical officer of acute care operations and clinical excellence at Scripps Health. “I’m hopeful, but we’re still kind of planning that it’s going to be this way through February.”

The flu generally hits hardest from late December through February. However, influenza made itself known in the fall of this year, as was the case in the Southern Hemisphere. 

“The real question is whether it’s shooting to an early peak or whether it’s going to be a sustained rise, and I don’t think there’s enough evidence right now to really tell,” said Dr. Cameron Kaiser, deputy public health officer for San Diego County.

Scripps hospitals and doctors’ offices have recorded 1,695 positive flu tests since Sept. 1, compared to 471 during the same time period last year. Hospital staff has been able to keep up with the demand made by these cases, the precaution comes from potential sickness among the healthcare employees.

“Right now, we’re okay, but I do worry, as we get into Thanksgiving, Christmas as we have flu and COVID, about the sick calls,” Sharieff said. “We’re trying our best to get ahead as much as we can now and get as many scheduled surgeries done as we can.”

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