Fall, Flu, and COVID-19

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With the start of the fall season, that also means flu season. What’s not entirely certain is exactly how the current COVID-19 pandemic will impact this year’s flu season. What is certain, however, is that both will undoubtedly coincide for several months, and therefore we need to do as much as we can to best prepare for both an outbreak of influenza as well as a worsening – or a second wave – of COVID-19 in our province as well as other parts of Canada and the world.

As we’ve recently seen a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases here in British Columbia – this after a somewhat more relaxed summer, as our province slowly began its reopening phase over the last couple of months – Dr. Bonnie Henry is now urging all British Columbians to take a step back and go back to doing what we know works in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve – especially as we phase into the respiratory season, where we could see yet another resurgence of the virus – which, combined with influenza, could prove to be worse than it was initially.

What does taking a step back look like, exactly? It means going back to basics and doing what we know works best to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as:

• Washing hands often with soap and water.
• Using alcohol-based sanitizer when soap and water isn’t readily available.
• Practicing physical distancing and keeping social circles small.
• Avoiding large gatherings.
• Wearing a face mask as an added layer of protection (this is mandatory in some cases.)
• Working from home if possible (particularly if you are considered high-risk for COVID-19.)
• Coughing/sneezing into your inner elbow (rather than hands.)
• Avoiding going out in public, to work or school if you’re sick.
• Regular cleaning/disinfecting of high-touch areas (desks, countertops, doorknobs, etc.)

The aforementioned measures will not only help protect against COVID-19, but they’re also great measures to follow as a way of preventing influenza as well as the common cold. By making things like hand hygiene, cleaning/disinfecting, and staying home when sick as part of our regular, daily routines, we’re all doing our part in preventing the spread of illness and protecting not just ourselves, but everyone around us.

While we tend to see an uptick in colds and flu viruses during the back-to-school season, there’s also a chance that the upcoming influenza season could be considerably milder than influenza seasons from years past, due in part to all of the precautionary measures that we’ve already taken as a result of COVID-19. However, just because this is a possibility doesn’t mean we should become lax in any way. Regardless of time of year or what viruses are occurring, these measures are things that we should always be practicing, as they’re healthy habits to fall into. The key factor in preventing a rise in COVID-19 cases this fall is human behaviour, which we saw proof of when our curve started flattening in mid-April.

To further predict how COVID-19 might impact Canada’s upcoming flu season, researchers have closely watched countries in the Southern Hemisphere – such as Australia – where winter and peak flu season occurs from June to August; as well as other countries such as Argentina, Chile, and South Africa.