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The realities of dealing with COVID-19 and flu at the same time

(KIRO 7)

We’re all looking forward to turning the corner and getting back to normal after conquering this pandemic. But we’ll be attempting to get back to normal as flu season dawns, and dealing with both at the same time will lead to difficulties. Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss this new normal.

“We could potentially end up with two epidemics occurring at exactly the same time, both the flu and COVID-19. It’s going to be very difficult to distinguish between the two at any given time, in any given person. In many ways, the only way you’re going to be able to discriminate between the two is based on testing,” he said.

What will this look like?

“They could both happen and have the problem with people being co-infected and getting very, very sick. Or it could be that we actually see a reduction in the number of people who get the flu this year because of all the hygiene practices that we’ve taken and put into place in order to reduce the likelihood of getting infected with coronavirus,” he said.

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Many of same preventative practices will help keep both at bay, and may help cut into the amount of people who get the flu.

“Wearing a mask will definitely help to reduce the number of people who get the flu because coronavirus and the flu virus are transmitted the same way, by either contact or the droplet method. Good hand hygiene, not shaking hands, doing elbow bumps, sneezing or coughing into your elbow — those things will also help to reduce the incidence of getting the flu.”

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“So one of the possible scenarios is that we actually see less people who get the flu this year, and that the overall mortality from people who get the flu and the number of people who die from coronavirus — it could be that the combination of the two is reduced because we actually have less flu infections and less flu deaths.”

How long will masks be necessary?

Even after we finally get the coronavirus vaccine, does he think people who have gotten into the habit of wearing masks regularly should simply continue to do so?

“I would prefer that we don’t have to; it may be that we need to do that, but I’m hopeful that that’s not the case. But one of the things that’s going to be important is that people actually get the vaccine. Only about 40% of people get the flu vaccine every year. If we only have 40% of people also getting the coronavirus vaccine, we’re going to still have a problem. And in that case, everybody is going to need to be wearing a mask,” he said.

“I think there are certain groups of people that it should have always probably been the case. People who are food servers or food handlers … Those people should probably always be wearing masks. I think for us as health care workers, we probably should be wearing masks all the time because we’re dealing with vulnerable people. And I think probably during the flu season — though I don’t know if this has ever really been discussed — should teachers be wearing masks when they’re around young school children? Because school children are vulnerable to the flu.”

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