JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local hospitals are preparing now for the possibility that they could be inundated with sick people if the flu season hits at the same time as an expected peak in COVID-19 infections.
Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, executive vice president of Baptist Health, said it is all about volume. “We look at the predictive models out there, there is a concern that we will see an uptick starting in mid-September,” Ransom told News4Jax.
She said that increase is potentially related to more children back in school getting infected with the virus and then taking it home to family members who could get sick enough to require hospitalizations. The timing of that spike could turn out to be a one-two-punch for hospitals if the flu season is severe.
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“Sometimes influenza season can take a heavy toll on a lot of hospital admissions,” Ransom said. “Many people wind up in intensive care and it really adds a burden to hospital and health systems, the sheer volume of patients that we can see."
The flu season is typically most prominent between October and February, though it can hit early and linger longer. Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrate the severity of a “twindemic," which describes a collision of flu and coronavirus pandemics.
The CDC released its calculation of last year’s estimated burden of the U.S flu season. It states that between 410,000 to 740,000 people were hospitalized with influenza in the country, 24,000 to 64,000 of whom died. (Click here to review the CDC’s flu 2019-2020 flu burden estimate.)
Add those numbers to the roughly 379,000 people who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. and a combination of both illnesses could cause hospital bed shortages and limited availability of life-saving equipment for these patients.
It is why doctors are encouraging as many people as possible get vaccinated for the flu.
“It’s always important to get a flu vaccination," Ransom said. “Maybe you’re that young healthy person not at high risk of getting a severe illness, but the important thing is you don’t want to pass it to others either.”
She said Baptist Health is preparing for an influx in patients.
“We are getting ready when it comes to PPE, making sure that we have testing capabilities and clearly we’re making sure that our hospitals are ready. That we have bed capacity, ICU capacity, staffing and personnel capacity as well. But it’s very important, more than ever, for people to get their flu vaccines."