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The head of pediatrics at the largest children’s hospital in Atlantic Canada says Nova Scotia is seeing extremely high numbers of children sick amid a “perfect storm” of respiratory illnesses.

Dr. Andrew Lynk said at a news conference Thursday that Halifax children’s hospital IWK Health Centre is seeing patient numbers higher than he’s experienced in his more than 30-year career as COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus and influenza circulate.

Because of this, medical staff are strained and wait times can be long. “Parents are having to wait hours and hours and hours unless their child is extremely sick,” Lynk said.

The doctor said that normally, 120 patients visiting the IWK emergency department in one 24-hour shift would be considered “very busy.”

But recently, there has consistently been between 150 and 180 patients each shift, and the department has seen as many as 200 sick children in one 24-hour shift. The patient numbers “are at historic levels that I’ve never seen before,” Lynk said.

The pediatrician said the IWK is not alone in experiencing this spike in sick children. In a meeting with his pediatric colleagues across the province, Lynk said, “We agreed from Yarmouth to Sydney and at the IWK, acute care services for children are stretched, stretched, stretched.”

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, who joined Lynk for the news conference, said this year there is “high disease activity,” allowing many respiratory illnesses to spread and the flu season started six to eight weeks earlier than is typical.

In order to protect children and others who are vulnerable to illness, Strang urged Nova Scotians to be up-to-date on COVID-19 boosters and be vaccinated against the flu. He also asked that people stay home whenever they feel unwell, even with minor cold-like symptoms. If they cannot, Strang said it’s important to wear a mask.

The chief medical officer also had a message directly for employers: “Please stop asking people for sick notes,” Strang said.

“This is an unnecessary pressure on the health-care system,” Strang said, adding that people should not visit a walk-in clinic for a sick note if they do not need medical care.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.