A new kind of flu season: Why prevention is even more critical during the pandemic

Healthcare professionals predict an increase in COVID-19 cases during flu season.

Flu season brings additional anxiety this year, arriving during a global pandemic that threatens to worsen this fall and winter. Health care professionals predict rates of COVID-19 infection will increase as people spend more time indoors and children return to in-person school. 

The climbing case counts will spark a rise in doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits and hospitalizations. 

So far this year, more than 7,500 Coloradans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and just over 2,500 have died. Modeling predicts national COVID deaths will peak at 2,800 per day by early December. 

This spike in cases will coincide with the beginning of flu season, and those two things combined could strain the health care system. During the 2019-20 season, Colorado recorded 3,832 hospitalizations due to flu. 

All this makes getting a flu shot especially important this year. The more Coloradans can minimize their impact on the health care system, the better. 

Why getting a flu shot is critical to Coloradoans:

“In normal years, influenza by itself stresses the health care system. Getting a flu vaccine will help to minimize demands on health care providers and resources when we already know that coronavirus is going to be a major — some public health experts say ‘catastrophic’ — challenge,” says Pinnacol Senior Medical Director Tom Denberg, M.D.

Compounding the issue is that coronavirus and the flu share many of the same symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat and fatigue. Denberg warns that people developing these symptoms may become worried they have COVID and could have difficulty getting a test. 

“There will be a sharply increased need for COVID testing, but these tests are already in very short supply, and in many places, results are often very delayed,” he notes. “Because flu and COVID symptoms overlap significantly, flu will place even greater demands on already limited COVID testing capacity.”

While getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee the recipient won’t get the flu, it does significantly reduce the likelihood. Those who do contract flu after getting the vaccine usually have a less-intense, shorter bout, making them less likely to require hospitalization. 

Denberg suggests explaining to employees why receiving the flu vaccine is particularly important this year. “Encouraging and facilitating their ability to get a flu vaccine will reduce absenteeism, protect your entire workforce, help the economy more broadly, and demonstrate that you care about your employees on a personal level and about the well-being of the public at large,” he says. 

Employers may boost the chances their employees will get flu shots by:

Holding a flu shot clinic: 

Hire someone to administer shots at your workplace if you are not working remotely. 

Handing out information on how to get flu shot:

 Ask your health insurance provider for pamphlets or emails you can distribute. 

Offering flu shot vouchers: 

Direct employees to a local pharmacy to redeem the vouchers.

Reimbursing the cost of flu shots: 

Repay employees who submit a receipt for their shot. 

Pinnacol has held an on-site flu shot clinic in the past, but with employees working remotely through at least year’s end, we are encouraging employees to get vaccinated through their medical providers under their employee-based health plans, and we are providing information about making those arrangements. 

Routine flu season precautions for Colorado employers and their workers.

Of course, during every flu season, businesses should also increase preventive habits such as washing hands and using hand sanitizers to decrease sharing the virus. Employers stepped up these measures to slow the spread of COVID starting last spring, and Denberg says remaining mindful of flu season best practices can help, too.

Take your flu season preparation and safety efforts to the next level.

Explore other flu season preparation tips, or visit Pinnacol’s health and wellness page. You can also email your question to a Pinnacol safety consultant at safetyoncall@pinnacol.com.

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