Record number of parents miss work as respiratory illnesses rise in children

Record number of parents miss work as respiratory illnesses rise in children

Enlarge / The parents work on their computers while their son is entertained at their home in Boston in April 2020.

Respiratory illnesses are raging this fall, hitting children especially hard. Cases of influenza-like illnesses are off to a surprisingly strong and early start this season. RSV — respiratory syncytial virus (sin-SISH-uhl) — continues to soar. A stew of SARS-CoV-2 variants is still simmering in the background. And the host of the usual cold season viruses, such as rhinoviruses and enteroviruses, also do the trick.

National trends in RSV.
Enlarge / National trends in RSV.

With infections surging, children’s hospitals across the country have reported being at capacity or overwhelmed, as Ars has previously reported. But another effect of virus crushing is a compression of the workforce. As The Washington Post first reported on Tuesday, the United States last month broke its record for people missing work due to child care issues, such as having sick children at home. home and daycare centers or schools closed due to staffing shortages and illnesses.

Outpatient visits for respiratory diseases.
Enlarge / Outpatient visits for respiratory diseases.

As of October, more than 100,000 employed Americans were absent from work for child care issues, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more workers missing than in any other month in recent records, including the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many child care centers and schools closed for extended periods. At the height of the pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020, the number of Americans absent from work for child care issues only reached 90,000.

Labor force statistics showing workers absent from work for child care issues.
Enlarge / Labor force statistics showing workers absent from work for child care issues.

Labor statistics are another reminder of the massive impact respiratory virus transmission continues to have on Americans. Like SARS-CoV-2, transmission of RSV, influenza, and other seasonal viruses can be reduced by simple health measures like wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, staying home when sick, and hygiene measures. But the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have backed away from encouraging Americans to take such health precautions.


With the pandemic in a relative lull, COVID-19 vaccines readily available, and Americans collectively tired of pandemic measures, most of the country has returned to pre-pandemic activities. But there are plenty of indications that things in the United States could get worse as fall and winter progress. Flu season, for example, has yet to peak, and the CDC has reported that fewer than normal numbers of Americans have received their annual flu shot.

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain relatively low, nearly 28,000 Americans are hospitalized with the pandemic virus and nearly 300 a day are dying. Although the updated booster dose provides strong protection against serious illness, only 31.4 million Americans, or 10% of those eligible for boosters, received one. Meanwhile, new omicron sublines continue to evolve, eliminating therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies. And experts are still concerned that another wildly different variant of SARS-CoV-2 could suddenly emerge, much like omicron did this time last year, causing a massive new wave of illnesses, hospitalizations and death.

Still, at a summit hosted by Stat News on Tuesday, White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha offered an optimistic outlook for the rest of the winter, saying he doesn’t foresee a surge of COVID. -19 driven by holiday rallies as seen last year. omicron wave. “We are in a very different place and we will stay in a different place,” he said, adding that most Americans have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and many have already been infected.

“We’re at a point now where I think if you’re up to date on your vaccines, you have access to treatments…there really shouldn’t be any restrictions on people’s activities,” Jha said. “I live pretty much like I lived in 2019.”

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