Double trouble: COVID-19 during flu season


(WAVY) — Imagine the perfect storm: COVID-19 and influenza cases surging at the same time.

As we enter the fall and winter season some health care experts are concerned about a potential “twindemic.”

“We think we are as prepared as we can be,” Riverside Health System President & CCO Dr. Mike Dacey told WAVY.

We checked in with the region’s largest healthcare systems, Sentara and Riverside as well as the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) to find out just what they’ve done.

“We did initiate multiple plans for capacity,” Sentara Influenza Prevention Task Force Leader Dr. Anthony Fisher said.

There are 3,500 in-patient beds available across the commonwealth and nearly 3,700 added by executive order of the governor. So, more than 7,000 beds are at the ready.

“What people should know and have confidence in is that here in the commonwealth health care providers and our partners in state government plan for these kinds of scenarios,” Julian Walker with VHHA said.

Since the spring, the state has stockpiled personal protective equipment. Fisher assures they have an adequate supply.

“Not enough to do the one-use that was kind of the standard before the pandemic, but definitely enough that we can utilize it safely,” he said.

When supplies were low in the spring, hospitals learned to troubleshoot and many are now decontaminating PPE so it can be used more than once.

Tents are at the ready for triaging or separating COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.

Dacey told WAVY that Hampton Roads hospital systems are on the same team.

“You can be friendly competitors in an ordinary time, but it’s very important in an extraordinary time like this to be collaborative and work together. So we’ve shared information we know at any given time where the resources lie,” Dacey said.

Virginia has never reached a level in which we strain our healthcare system, however, Dacey sees some potential trouble ahead.

“You’re starting to see that in the Midwest, the upsurge in cases in Wisconsin and in Ohio and that’s the real worry.”

So, Fisher explained, they are preparing for the worst, but still hoping for the best.

“We haven’t talked about it as much but we have been speaking about early in the COVID pandemic flattening the curve and with continued hand washing social distancing continued masking we’re seeing that.”

They’ve also learned a lot about how to treat the virus over the last eight months. Mortality is down 75% compared to March.

“You go back to March and everyone in March was being admitted to the intensive care unit and was being put on ventilators and turns out medically that was the wrong thing to do — we didn’t understand that back then,” Dacey explained.

Now, he said, they now have new drugs and steroid treatments, and most patients don’t need to be hospitalized at all. Somewhere between 15% and 20% of cases are admitted.

But people are getting tired of the masks and social distancing, and the holidays are coming.
Doctors worry a packed family house at Christmas could translate to a packed hospital later.

“We will hit capacity for flu season generally February [or] March. We will have times when the hospital is full,” said Dr. Fisher.

It is possible to get both the flu and the coronavirus at the same time, Dacey said. One attacks the cardiovascular and the other attacks the respiratory system. Doctors say it’s something to consider when deciding whether to wear a mask or get a flu shot.

They are hopeful that masking, hand washing, and social distancing will lead to a mild flu season. A recent statewide poll showed more Virginians plan to get a flu shot this year because of COVID-19.

“So, I think people are taking this seriously,” Walker said.

The health officials agree: public behaviors could go a long way in preventing another shutdown of elective surgeries, banning visitors in hospitals, and keeping enough beds open for those who need them.

On Monday, Nov. 9, Celebrate Healthcare is hosting a webinar on “Navigating the Twindemic of Flu and COVID-19.” To register, visit this link.

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