Officials worry about COVID-19, flu season overlap


As the nation enters the fall season and its seventh month of COVID-19, health officials are worried about how the pandemic might evolve with the flu season.

“We’re concerned,” said Shawn Werner, administrative director of the Dubois County Health Department. “I know the hospital and clinics are concerned. If you combine flu and COVID, then it is possible that hospitals could become overwhelmed.”

Officials worry that an influx of flu patients could overwhelm hospitals, doctor offices and laboratories that test for both illnesses.

“That's why we're really urging individuals to get their flu shots this year,” Werner said, “to try to alleviate that problem.”

Further complicating matters is that the symptoms of both illnesses — dry cough, fever and chills, fatigue — are difficult to distinguish without testing.

“It's going to be so hard to differentiate flu symptoms from COVID symptoms because they almost mirror each other when they start out,” Werner said. “So if you can get your flu vaccine and protect yourself from the flu virus, then that would kind of take that off the table.”

The end results could cause major problems, particularly if people don’t follow public health guidance aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing masks, avoiding crowds and keeping their distance.

The state as a whole is slowly moving into Stage 5 of reopening, with some stipulations remaining in place. Face covering rules are still in place as before, as is social distancing. But various places, like restaurants and bars, will be allowed to move to full capacity, with social distancing. And size limitations are being removed for social gatherings and meetings, with social distancing rules still in place.

The county health department has been working hard to encourage people to get a flu shot.

“That's why we've been doing these drive-thru clinics for those individuals that want to get their flu shot and be protected,” Werner said. “There has been an overwhelming response for drive-thrus. We kind of hoped for that because we want to provide that service to individuals.”

The department held its third drive-through clinic Thursday morning, with about 100 people driving up to get the vaccine. The first two, which were for people age 65 and older, drew 300 people to one and about 230 to the other.

“They don't even need to leave their car, so there's really no exposure risks to them, or even our staff,” Werner said. “We basically give them a clipboard; they fill it out. We make a copy of their Medicare card or insurance cards. They pull up and get their shot. It's literally a few minutes to get their shot, and then they drive out. The clipboards and pens are sanitized, then ready for the next person.”

The department is looking to offer more drive-thru clinics.

People can also go inside the health department to get the vaccine. The walk-in clinic is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. But those wanting to get the vaccine must schedule an appointment by calling the immunizations clerk at 812-481-7056.

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