Northland Health Experts Warn of ‘Severe’ Flu Season to Come, On Top of Pandemic

The shadow looming over all this, according to experts, is the stress healthcare systems nationwide are already under.

DULUTH, Minn.- According to Northland health experts, the outlook for this year’s flu season is not good, as they prepare for a one-two punch of the flu and the ongoing COVID-19 surge.

“A lot of people are back out doing their normal activities, we’re not in quarantine so those factors will play a role in what could be a severe flu season.”

It’s a situation St. Louis County Public Health Nurse Rillis Eklund said she and her colleagues have likely never encountered before. “We didn’t have a lot of flu last year so we really didn’t know what to anticipate this year, where we have a worldwide pandemic and the flu season approaching is very unique.”

It’s harder to forecast influenza’s impact this year after last saw a milder flu season. “And that’s probably a big reason because we were distancing and masking so carefully,” said Dr. Andrew Thompson, Infectious Disease Physician at St. Luke’s. “That’s not going to happen this year.”

“It’s already evident that we’re in much closer contact with other people and so I would expect that we’re going to have a bigger flu season than we had last year,” he said.

Some good news in all of this 00 doctors say there is no harm to getting both the COVID-19 vaccine or booster and flu shot close together, or even at once.

“I myself got both of them, one in each arm at the same time, so you get it over with,” said Dr. Thompson. “You get side effects from both, but it’s not like it’s added to or multiply each other.”

Meanwhile, if you do feel sick with symptoms, health officials say always stay home.

Since both the flu and COVID can both make you sick the same way, it’s better to be safe and know what you have. “When in doubt get a COVID test,” Eklund said.

“The symptoms of flu and COVID do overlap each other. Specifically, the fever, the coughing, and the shortness of breath or difficulty breathing,” said the Public Health Nurse.

But according to Dr. Thompson, an influx of flu cases could also mean an influx of tests for both COVID and the flu since they both use the same machines.

“Obtaining tests has also been somewhat challenging. It’s better now than it was last year,” he said.  “Any increase in illness can stress these supply lines because we have to do more testing.”

The shadow looming over all this, according to experts, is the stress healthcare systems nationwide are already under.

“We know right now that there are a lot of people in the hospital due to COVID and when the flu season comes around those rates of hospitalization will increase as well, putting the availability of our hospitals at risk,” said Eklund.

So the calls to get vaccinated are double — those six months and older get a flu shot, and those eligible get vaccinated for COVID-19 or boosters.

“Being vaccinated reduces people’s risk of getting severely ill, it reduces their risk of being hospitalized and dying, and it also reduces the chance that you’ll transmit influenza to someone else,” said Dr. Thompson.

Flu shots are now available at St. Luke’s and Essentia Health. At St. Luke’s, appointments for shots through either primary care physicians or at the Vaccine Clinic on First Street must be made online.

Now since the demand for COVID testing is going up with new cases, the saliva testing site at the DECC is expanding its days of operation starting Monday, serving about a thousand people per day.

Next week the site will be open Monday through Saturday, then from October 11 on: Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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