As flu cases surge, expect longer ER, urgent care wait times for children

Between surges in flu and RSV, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's emergency departments and urgent care are swamped right now, with two or three times the usual number of patients they see this time of year.

CDC officials say flu-related hospitalizations are at the highest levels the US has seen in a decade.

Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician with Children's Medical Group in Decatur, says when your child gets sick, it is hard to know what to do.

However, Shu says, if it feels like an emergency, go to the ER.

"If your child is in distress, they need to go, they need to get checked out," Dr. Shu says. "And, you should call 911, if it's necessary. So, if it's something where your child is really having trouble breathing or stops breathing, call 911 right away."

If you're bringing your child in, you can check to see how long you may have to wait in Children's 3 ERs and seven urgent cares on the system's website

The hospital system says wait times are averaging three hours or longer.

"Everyone's sick right now," Dr. Shu says. "So, even though the ER can try to prioritize the sickest people, it's hard to get everyone in at once because they are so busy."

ER wait times are updated every 15 minutes, urgent care wait times every minute, based on how long it is taking the average patient to be placed in an exam room.

The "Save My Spot" option for urgent care visits is not available because of the intense demand.

If your child's illness is not urgent, Dr. Shu says, call your pediatrician.

"We can give some guidance by phone or we can do a telemedicine visit," she says. "So, sometimes that can prevent the need for physically coming in to the office."

If possible, she says, get your child into your local ER, urgent care or doctor's office.

"That's where your records are, and that's where the physicians are going to be most familiar with your child's health," Dr. Shu says. "So, when possible, stick with your medical home."