BOSTON — The Baker administration has extended a pandemic-related policy allowing acute care hospitals to use alternative space for patients to help deal with a surge of children hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus and flu.

In new guidance to hospitals, the state Department of Public Health said it is extending a policy that during the height of the pandemic allowed hospitals to use alternate spaces within their facilities for inpatient care to deal with a massive influx of patients.

The move to extend the policy comes in response to an unprecedented rise in pediatric hospitalizations from a so-called “tripledemic” of RSV, flu and COVID-19 infections that has pushed many of the state’s emergency rooms to the brink.

DPH said the move will “enable hospitals to increase the number of patients cared for by providing additional or alternate space to meet the demand and ongoing infection control best practices given the ongoing high levels of community transmission of COVID-19 and demand for healthcare system utilization.”

The state policy will remain in effect until the federal government lifts a blanket waiver allowing hospitals flexibility in utilizing space for patients, DPH said.

RSV is a respiratory virus that includes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults, but can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis in young children. It can be life-threatening in infants and older adults with pre-existing conditions, medical experts say.

In Massachusetts, the five-week average of RSV cases detected by tests has skyrocketed to 296 as of Nov. 5, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Last week, the Massachusetts Medical Society and other state health groups issued a statement calling for more mitigation measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases that are “causing severe illness and stretching capacity in emergency departments and hospitals.”

The groups said that includes vaccinations, wearing face masks in crowded indoor spaces, and keeping school-aged children home if they are symptomatic.

“This will not only lessen the burden on our overstressed health care system, which is especially important as we approach the holiday season, but will also reduce interruptions to in-person learning and other children’s activities that can result from outbreaks caused by viral infections,” the groups said.

Medical experts say all children who are over 6 months of age should be vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19. Children over the age of 5 who have received primary COVID-19 vaccinations should get a booster, they say.

Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can safely and effectively be given at the same time, health officials say.

Public health groups are calling on the Biden administration to declare a national emergency over pediatric hospitalizations ahead of the holiday season.

In a letter to Biden, the Children’s Hospital Association and American Academy of Pediatrics said nationwide more than three-quarters of pediatric hospital beds are full, and many states are reporting more than 90% of such beds are full.

“The pediatric healthcare system is doing all it can to meet these overwhelming needs across the continuum of care and taking regional approaches to meet the growing demands,” they wrote. “We need emergency funding support and flexibilities along the same lines of what was provided to respond to COVID surges.”

Medical experts have attributed the rise in pediatric illnesses, in part, to the fact that children were exposed to fewer germs over the past several years because of pandemic-related precautions such as masking and social-distancing, and as a result their immune systems have weakened.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhinews.com.

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