If there’s one potential upside to the masks, hand sanitizing, repeated cleaning, and social distancing that COVID-19 has wrought, it may be that it could also be a protection during the upcoming flu season, officials said.
But that doesn’t mean they’re putting all their eggs in one basket–at an August press conference in Dallas, Gov. Greg Abbott joined state and local officials in stressing the importance of getting a flu shot this year.
“Let’s stay where we are in terms of the vigilance and the discipline for the measures to prevent COVID-19 and, in doing so, I hope we will have the very mildest flu season in history,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt with the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Abbott, Hellerstedt, and UT Southwestern Medical Center President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky were among those who gathered for the August roundtable, where everything from how to make the vaccine the most accessible to planning for potential demand for hospital beds should some have complications from the flu was discussed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 8% of the U.S. population gets the flu every year and, for many, it’s minor. But the fact that the symptoms are quite similar at first to COVID-19, and the fact that any uptick in flu complications that result in hospitalizations could hamstring efforts to keep beds available for COVID patients, does have officials gearing up for an even more robust approach to the upcoming season.
“We know that the flu season is coming up. And if flu season this coming year were as severe as it was last year on top of the pandemic of COVID-19, that could pose substantial challenges for your hospitals, as well as for your PPE supplies,” Abbott said.
“For a doctor, the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are very similar,” added Hellerstedt.
Abbott also pointed out that flu complications can be preventable because, unlike COVID-19, there is a vaccine for the flu.
“One of the things we wanted to urge everybody today is to first understand the importance of getting ahead of the curve with regard to the flu during this time of COVID-19 and the best way that you can get ahead of the curve is by going up and making sure that you do get a flu vaccine,” Abbott said.
Several doctors at the roundtable agreed.
“I can’t emphasize that enough,” said Dr. John Zerwas, the UT System executive vice chancellor of health affairs.
“We do understand we are facing a challenge of a flu season unlike any other because of the convergence with COVID-19 and I can only emphasize, I can’t emphasize too strongly your message of the importance this year of getting that vaccine early so that we do everything we can to diminish the overall impact of the flu and the potential stress it will place on our ability to provide all the care needed by the people of North Texas,” Podolsky said.