The healthcare system in the U.S. has buckled under the current coronavirus pandemic, with overloaded hospitals struggling to keep up. But should a second wave of the outbreak occur simultaneously during the coming flu season, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield says, things could get even worse.
Speaking with the Washington Post on Tuesday, Redfield said that should the outbreak of these two illnesses happen at once, there is “a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.” Redfield told the paper that officials at both the state and federal levels should be preparing for the coming months and continue encouraging social distancing protocols even as regions begin reopening.
In addition, Redfield told the Post that people in the U.S. will need to be diligent about getting their flu shots. In a comment that underscores the stress an epidemic can cause to our healthcare system and its workers, Redfield told the paper that opting for the shot “may allow there to be a hospital bed available for your mother or grandmother that may get coronavirus.”
The flu is most common during the fall and winter, and typically begins to ramp up in October, according to the CDC. During the October 2019 to April 2020 flu season, the CDC estimates that there were between 39 million and 56 million flu illnesses, and between 410,000 and 740,000 hospitalizations. There were between 24,000 and 62,000 flu-related deaths this last flu season. While the health agency does not know the exact number of cases of covid-19 in the U.S., it estimates there are more than 802,000 cases and over 44,000 deaths.
According to data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there have been more than 182,000 deaths globally from covid-19. But the total number of deaths by country, county, and city can vary significantly by day as officials work to tally known covid-19-related fatalities, a task made more difficult by limited testing. According to an investigation from the New York Times, there have been “at least” 28,000 more deaths during last month the pandemic than official death reports account for.
All of this is reason enough to stress that in addition to continuing to practice social distancing and precautionary measures like diligent hand-washing, you should get the damn flu shot. Unfortunately, reopening the economy does not mean we’re in the clear just yet, and now’s the time to be preparing for a situation that could get much, much worse before it gets better.