Charlotte, NC – As if 2020 has not been horrible enough, Autumn will inevitably bring about the start of the annual flu season. This year, the healthcare system will be particularly strained as it must manage the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to the flu season. Several factors will be necessary to watch while you keep yourself and your family safe.
Understanding how the two very different viruses behave and the societal and behavioral changes that were implemented in response to COVID-19 is essential. The influence virus typically spreads by “droplet” transmission, which means droplets of saliva carry the particles through the air. These large droplets are spread by sneezing and coughing and may travel 6-8 feet. The Sars-Cov-2 virus, however, can remain suspended in the air for as long as 90 minutes.
Although we know the measures taken to contain COVID-19 effectively stopped the spread of the flu last winter, any potential benefits from the restrictions are tied to the “fatigue” caused by COVID-19 restrictions, which have now been in place since last winter. State and local governments, in many cases, have over-reacted to the pandemic and caused businesses to close and unemployment to rise.
The fallout of these closures has led to government handouts and bailouts that will continue to cause tax hikes for generations. These frustrations, along with the public’s general “fatigue” of wearing a mask and social distancing, may result in a rebound-like rebellion as coronavirus spread declines and restrictions are slowly lifted. If the public throws caution to the wind, then a door is opened for the flu virus to spread rapidly in the void.
The efficacy of the flu vaccine, as well as public interest in taking a flu vaccine, will also affect public health outcomes this fall. At present, most people could not trust the government any less in its handling of public health. As the body of science which drives public health policy changes, then policy should also change. Because the present administration is exceptionally transparent, the rapidly changing body of science has lead to rapidly changing rules which has unfortunately come at the cost of public trust in some cases.
If the flu virus does evolve into a particularly virulent strain, or the vaccine is ineffective, or people do not take measures to protect themselves, then the healthcare system could easily fail again. Although COVID-19 numbers are generally declining, the virus has not disappeared entirely.
We have all seen images in the news of bodies being stacked into refrigerated trailers in NY because the morgues were full, and it is not unreasonable that we could get to that extreme again this flu season. Hospitals are always strained during flu season, but now that COVID-19 has been straining the system for the past 9 months hospitals are vulnerable to failure again.
The most important measure we can all take to protect ourselves and our families is to get a flu shot. People will not maintain social distancing or mask-wearing indefinitely, so maintaining up-to-date vaccinations for all recommended vaccines, especially the flu, is what you can do to protect yourself.
Flu vaccines are readily available at most every pharmacy and/or doctor’s office and are often provided free-of-charge by employers. The flu vaccine, unlike the upcoming COVID vaccine, has been studied extensively and found to be safe. You cannot “get the flu” from the vaccine, nor will it cause Autism in your children. The vaccine may, however, save your life.
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