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‘Twindemic’? Carilion Clinic experts on dangers of COVID-19 and flu season

‘Any time you have a highly infectious disease which can get people sick enough to come into the hospital, there is always a risk where capacity can become an issue’

ROANOKE, Va. – Winter is on its way, and with that, comes a warning from health experts about a possible ‘twindemic,' which would be when a surge in flu cases overlaps with the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

Carilion Clinic’s senior vice president of hospital operations, Michael Abbott, said that when COVID-19 cases rise in the community, so do in-patient hospitalizations..

“The hardest part is just preparing for a continued increase," said Abbott. “It creates more capacity challenges, for not just our hospitals, but the hospitals in our community.".

In order to prepare for a possible influx, Carilion Clinic is ramping up its testing, supplies and staffing. They have the ability to flex the number of hospital beds as needed.

“We may have a floor that’s used for something today and tomorrow it may be for COVID patients," said Abbott.

Since the flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, that poses an added challenge for the health care system.

“You truly may not know which one you have until you’re tested," said Abbott.

Some testing companies have a combined test that can determine if you have the flu, COVID-19 or another respiratory virus.

“It has us concerned obviously because nobody wants to have a loved one who is ill," said Carilion Clinic Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie.

He said it’s hard to tell how bad this year’s flu season will be, but Carilion is already starting to see a rise in flu cases. Last year, Carilion saw 8,082 total flu cases. Typically, the peak hits in January after the holidays.

Carilion Clinic Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie references a graph of Carilion's 2019 flu season cases.
Carilion Clinic Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie references a graph of Carilion's 2019 flu season cases. (WSLS)

“Any time you have a highly infectious disease which can get people sick enough to come into the hospital, there is always a risk where capacity can become an issue," said Baffoe-Bonnie.

The pandemic is not slowing down in places like New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, which saw a 200% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past month. In response, El Paso’s convention center is set to open as a hospital with up to 100 beds.

Baffoe-Bonnie and Abbott hope that mask-wearing and social distancing can reduce the spread of the flu. While it’s a message many are tired of, it’s still one worth hearing:

“This is something we do have control over. As people in the community wear a mask, socially distance, wash their hands, get a flu shot, these are the kinds of things that help with capacity issues in all of our hospitals. And it is a chance for us to stop the spread," said Abbott.

Carilion is offering free flu shot clinics.

Some experts also believe getting the flu vaccine will help the body’s immune system fight other diseases, like COVID-19.


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