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Metro Atlanta doctors warn of rise in flu cases, respiratory illnesses

Some facilities have had to temporarily close due to reaching capacity

STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Rashonda Thames' pediatrician no longer offers walk-in appointments. She's tried to get help for her four-year-old at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's urgent care facility in Stockbridge, but she could not make it through the line wrapped around the building. 

"My four-year-old is actually nonverbal, so when he gets sick, it’s of high concern because he can’t really voice how he feels," Thames said. “But there are so many kids getting sick and coming in, they can’t see all those children. So my pediatrician just canceled walk-ins. They don’t want kids who have COVID to walk in and expose staff at the pediatrician.”

The urgent care location in Stockbridge has consistently seen a large number of families, and at times, this and other facilities have closed due to being at full capacity. Signs stand outside the doors for several hours a day, urging parents to find another location to take their kids. 

Kanesha Jackson has four kids, the youngest of which she said has been to the emergency department four times in the last two months. The Henry County mother said the cost of living, including food and gas, compounds the difficulty and getting her sick kids the accessible care that they need. 

RELATED: Long wait times at emergency rooms across metro Atlanta

"I have cried, because it’s like I get all the way down there to urgent care. I’m in Forest Park, so it’s not like I’m close to it," Jackson said. "You get all the way down there, they’re closed, and now I have to turn back around and go to downtown Atlanta. So that’s even more traffic. All of the doctor’s offices are booked through December and January, so my son still hasn’t been able to get the medicine he needs. That’s why we’re having to go back and forth to the emergency room every couple weeks.”

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta told 11Alive that its emergency departments and urgent care centers have been experiencing extremely high volumes at all locations due to a surge in respiratory viruses. 

In a statement, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta said: "While there have been instances where we’ve had to close the Children’s at Hudson Bridge Urgent Care Center earlier than usual, it has not been closed this week. Children’s has many other urgent care locations as well as three emergency departments. A list of locations can be found here."

RELATED: Georgia's flu rate among highest in the nation, data shows

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported at least 1,500 flu cases across the state in the last two weeks, and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted RSV is landing kids in urgent care centers or hospitals. Metro Atlanta doctors are warning parents and kids that the area could be in for a rough few weeks, dealing with a surge in flu and respiratory viruses right now. Dr. Cecil Bennett, medical director of Newnan Family Medicine, said kids are now exposed to the flu, common cold, COVID, and other bacterial infections like never before, because of oftentimes dropping common prevention methods like masking and vaccinations. 

"It costs more for families to go to Urgent Care and end up in the emergency room and be admitted to the hospital than to provide basic services and basic needs," Bennett said. "Until we fix that dynamic, we're just going to see this over and over again. We're not even close to the height of the flu season. We’re going to have to really be prepared, because it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Bennett suggests that children wash their hands, make sure they have something to wipe their noses with and use hand sanitizer to stay as healthy as possible. 

Thames said she's found success with telehealth appointments if doctor's offices, urgent care centers or emergency departments are full, and relying on home remedies if possible. 

Other parents like Jackson are still trying to figure out how to find adequate and immediate care for their children.

“These places either don’t take Medicaid or don’t take kids," Jackson said. ”The fact that there are a few options for healthcare on this side of town for little kids is really sad.”

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