Story at a glance
- Last winter, the coronavirus pandemic hit just as the flu season was reaching its peak and overburdened the health care system.
- Public health experts are worried it will happen again or even be worse, considering coronavirus rates remain high.
- Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from getting sick and risking exposure to COVID-19.
More than 350,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported globally in the last seven days as the United States nears the 8 million mark. Several states from the northeast to the Bay Area are seeing spikes in new cases and reported deaths. But the threat of the coronavirus has overshadowed another major virus: the flu.
“The concern I have going into the fall is this is a very perilous point in time,” Stephen Woolf, a professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the Guardian. “We’re entering the winter flu season, and we’re not going into it with low baseline rates [of coronavirus] like we should have.”
BREAKING NEWS ON THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
Hospitals and medical centers could quickly become overcrowded unless enough people take the influenza vaccine. Public health experts are concerned about a repeat of last winter, when more than 35.5 million cases of the flu resulted in more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations and 34,200 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"This is a critical year for us to try to take the flu as much off the table as we can," CDC director Robert Redfield told the Journal of the American Medical Association, adding that he’s hoping for a 65 percent vaccination rate.
Normally, as the school year begins and autumn sets in, many parents would be taking their children to get their flu shots stocking up on cold medicine just in case. But the ongoing pandemic has — to put it mildly — complicated things. Here are a few things to remember:
Even if your child is attending school virtually from home, they still need to be vaccinated. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, says the CDC website, especially people at high risk.
If you’re concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 at the doctor’s office, check with your local pharmacies that offer the vaccine about their safety protocols.
Just as with COVID-19, wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer and avoid touching your face.
Keep social distancing! Both the flu and the coronavirus are viral infections, which means they are highly contagious — even if you are asymptomatic or are recovering. Stay home when you can, wear a mask when you need to go in public, keep surfaces and objects clean and cover coughs and sneezes.
See a doctor if you get sick. While the flu may seem common compared to the coronavirus, it can still be deadly. Antiviral drugs can be used to treat the flu before it gets worse.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW