The Importance of Preparing for Flu Season in 2020

Dr. David Friend, Chief Advisor of Restructuring at SCALE Physician Group

Flu season always poses a risk to seniors, but this year that risk is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, senior care facilities need to prepare for flu season and take steps to keep their residents safe.

Why This Flu Season Is Different

The presence of both the flu and COVID-19 can put seniors (as well as the general public) at risk. Dr. David Friend, Chief Advisor of Restructuring at SCALE Physician Group, notes that the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, but the treatments for each disease are different.

“It’s really important to try to differentiate between them,” explains Friend. “We have a vaccine for the flu. If people take the vaccine, it will decrease their likelihood of getting the flu, avoiding that confusion if possible.”

According to Friend, it’s possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. “When you have both, the odds of mortality are going to increase,” he says.

Friend notes that the flu could also compound a potential increase in COVID-19 cases that could occur in the fall and winter. “I personally believe, and the evidence is showing, that the next four to five months are going to be very difficult when it comes to COVID-19,” says Friend. “Senior care facilities were hit hard last time, and they’re still vulnerable to be hit hard again.”

Preventing the Flu in Senior Care Facilities

The flu vaccine can help to protect senior care residents from the illness, but it’s important that the residents aren’t the only ones to be vaccinated. Friend advocates for senior care facility residents and all staff getting the flu vaccine unless they have a medical reason not to do so.

Everyone in the building also needs to practice infection control. Many of these infection control practices, like social distancing, frequent hand washing, and wearing masks, are already in place because of COVID-19.

Friend explains that staff play an important role in helping to keep the flu out of a facility. Staff need to not only practice infection control while at work, but also while they’re at home.

“I think this mutual responsibility is really important,” says Friend. Staff need to be aware that they can contract both the flu and COVID-19 from the people who they’re living with and socializing with. Avoiding crowds and socially distancing can help to minimize the chance that staff will contract the flu and bring it into the building.

If anyone in the facility is sick, it’s important to immediately isolate them from others to contain the illness. This can be easier said than done, since many facilities aren’t traditionally set up to be able to isolate residents. Facilities need to have a plan in place for getting residents the care that they need, and all staff should understand the details of that plan.

The Importance of Preparation

Currently, flu levels within the United States are very low, says Friend. “There’s some belief that because we’re masking and distancing, we might have a flu season. We can’t rely on that. Prevention is better than being hurt.”

Many of the same COVID-19 precautions in place can help to prevent flu transmission, but facilities should still prepare to face both illnesses, perhaps simultaneously. Now is the time to develop flu vaccine plans for faculty and residents, as well as to develop plans for identifying symptoms, isolating sick residents, and promptly ensuring that residents receive the medical care they need.

Topics: Featured Articles , Infection control