Thursday, October 08, 2020

Coronavirus and flu could overwhelm rural hospitals

Because the coronavirus pandemic has not yet been controlled, the combination of covid-19 and the annual flu season could make for the "worst fall" the U.S. has ever had "from a public health perspective," according to Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He made the remarks in a recent interview on the "Coronavirus in Context" video series hosted by WebMD, Carolyn Crist reports.

Redfield stressed the importance of social distancing, hand-washing, wearing masks, and getting the flu shot. Failure to keep covid and flu infection numbers down could hurt hospitals that are already stretched thin—such as rural hospitals. "We're going to have covid in the fall, and we're going to have flu in the fall, and either one of those by themselves can stress certain hospital systems," Redfield said. "I've seen hospital intensive care units stretched by a severe flu season, and clearly we've all seen it recently with covid."

Missouri hospital officials say they're particularly concerned about rural hospitals' ability to cope with covid-19 cases along with the seasonal flu, Gladys Bautista reports for KRCG in Bloomfield. It could cause significant staff shortages, said Hermann Area District Hospital administrator Dan McKinney. He told Bautista that rural areas could be more prone to infectious disease spread because they're less likely to take some safety precautions seriously. "I think most rural areas, our counties included in that, are not huge supporters of mask mandates so I do think that does tend to create spread," he said.

Another problem: the symptoms of covid-19 and flu are similar, so people infected with the flu may think they have covid-19 and seek out a test, Andrea Noble reports for Route Fifty. That could strain a testing infrastructure already stretched nearly to its limits, according to Andrew Pekosz, a virologist and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance

"The volume of covid-19 tests across the United States has led to lengthy backlogs at laboratories, which means patients have had to wait days—if not weeks—to get results. In some cases, the long processing time makes the tests essentially useless since the recommended quarantine period after contracting the virus that causes covid-19 is two weeks," Noble reports. "Some states have instituted limits and testing priorities to help address the problems."

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