As healthcare workers get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic, the flu season is right around the corner. Doctors urge people to keep up health practices in place during the COVID-19 crisis to help with the flu, too.
“My message throughout the whole pandemic has been preparation, not panic,” said Dr. Paul Nanda, the Chief Medical Officer at TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track.
The CDC says flu activity often starts to pick up in October, while most of the time activity peaks between December and February. Dr. Nanda says the challenge will be differentiating between the flu and COVID-19.
“Going back from March when the first pandemic hit to our surge at the end of June, early July, and it was challenging,” said Nanda. “We had to rapidly learn how to roll out policies that protect our staff, but also provide the most good for our patients to keep our patients safe.”
Dr. Nanda thinks going through that earlier this year has prepared them for another COVID-19 wave or dealing with COVID-19 and the flu season. On top of that, he thinks people are more conscious now about hand washing, covering coughs and wearing masks, which he thinks hopefully could mean a tamped down flu season.
USF Health’s Dr. Marissa Levine says through the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare systems have learned a lot about how to manage their resources.
“What we don’t want to happen is to have a really bad flu season and bad coronavirus peaks at the same time. That’s bad for everybody,” said Dr. Levine. “It’ll overwhelm our healthcare system, and it could lead to more deaths just because we don’t have the adequate resources to deal with the issue. That doesn’t have to happen, I don’t want to scare people to think that it will happen. I think we can work individually and collectively to prevent that from happening.”
Dr. Levine says people should keep doing what they’ve been doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to help during flu season: social distancing, wearing masks and practicing good hygiene.
“I do worry about COVID fatigue. We all want this to be over, but it’s not, and as it gets better, we tend to let our guard down, so as long as we don’t let our guard down, yes, I think we are much better prepared,” said Dr. Levine. “We could actually minimize the flu season just by continuing to do what we’ve been doing and adding flu vaccination on top of that.”
Dr. Nanda says now more than ever is an important time to get the flu shot. He says children as young as six months old can get the vaccine. Dr. Nanda recommends people wait until Oct. 1 so you’re well-covered during the peak of flu season.
“It decreases the risk of having both COVID and the flu at the same time, and we have a vaccine that we know the science works behind it for years. We can tamp down the number of circulating flu, that certainly increases the health of those patients and the community,” said Dr. Nanda.