As the county begins to see cases of COVID-19 decrease – albeit in herky-jerky fashion – state and local officials gathered Thursday to discussion another potential threat looming in the near future.
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,” Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday.
“For a doctor, the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are very similar,” added Dr. John Hellerstedt with the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
Abbott, who visited Dallas for a roundtable on that very subject Thursday, pointed out that flu complications can be preventable because, unlike COVID-19, there is a vaccine for it.
“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.
UT Southwestern Medical Center President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, who met with Abbott and several state officials, agreed with that advice.
“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.
And while officials are increasing emphasis on getting a flu shot, they’re also hopeful that good hygiene practices – masking, hand washing, sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces, and social distancing – learned during the pandemic will help potentially slow the spread of the flu, too.
“I just want to echo the theme of prevention. We want to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in our communities. We want to prevent a really bad flu season from coming upon us,” said Hellerstedt. “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.”