The flu season last year was more mild due to pandemic lifestyle changes: people staying indoors, wearing their masks, and washing their hands more often, according to health experts. So much has changed since then, and experts expect an uptick in flu cases.
“Much of the time when seasonal flu was going on, we were under lockdown. We were not out and about. Children weren’t at school, we weren’t gathering, and a lot of us were working from home," Kern County Public Health’s Michelle Corson said. "And yes when we were mixing together, [but] we were masked. And a lot of those things are going to play a role in diminishing the role of the flu transmitting, because flu transmits the same way COVID-19 does.”
In 2020 to 2021, 38 million people contracted COVID-19 and 630,000 people died in the U.S. so far, according to Mayo Clinic. Meanwhile, in the 2019 to 2020 flu season, 38 million had the flu and 22,000 died, in the U.S., which is lower than in the past.
With a potential uptick in flu cases, the concern health experts like Chief Medical Officer of AAMC, Dr. Janis Orlowski has: that these two different respiratory viruses will spread at the same time over the fall and winter seasons.
“We want to try to decrease the number of people who need to go to the hospital. Right now, our hospitals are over full, with people who are sick from COVID-19 and from people who are sick from other illnesses that have been delayed because of the pandemic,” Dr. Orlowski said.
We’re seeing that reality locally. As of Friday, Kern County has 17 ICU beds available compared to 31 this time last month, according to the state dashboard, and 78 of those people in the ICUs are COVID-19 patients. To avoid hospitalizations from the flu, Corson pointed out ways to slow the spread.
“The practices that we’re encouraging everyone to do right now because of COVID-19: recommended masking. We are still recommending that you stay home when you’re sick, [and] you try to limit your exposure to people who are outside of your household, in large gatherings for example,” Corson said.
Both Corson and Dr. Orlowski recommended getting the flu shot. Corson said it is safe to get both the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine at the same time, even in the same arm. She added both vaccines are being offered currently at the Kern County Fair.
“Before the pandemic, you might recall that there were many stories about the number of adults and children who became very ill from the flu, and unfortunately some died from the flu,” Dr. Orlowski said. It’s the same situation now. People need to get their vaccine.”