Health experts fear high flu case numbers during 2021-2022 season amid COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 isn’t the only virus vexing health leaders-- the upcoming flu season is causing concern. 

Health experts said the 2020-2021 flu season was mild because COVID-19 precautions, like wearing masks and social distancing, reduced the spread. However, the CDC said relaxed mitigation measures like stay-home orders and mask mandates may result in an increase in flu activity for 2021-2022.

Panelists on the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) virtual briefing said they feared high flu cases could also increase COVID-19 cases.

"When you do combine those things with schools reopening, with the flu season – which we all believe will be significantly worse than last year, given what was going on in our world – we are very concerned," said. Dr. Steve Mitchell, medical director at Washington Medical Coordination Center.

Cassie Sauer, CEO of WSHA, said she is worried an influx of flu cases will strain hospitals already overwhelmed and beyond capacity due to the Delta variant surge.

"We don’t know if we’re going to get another variant," said Sauer. "It feels like a Petri dish of Greek alphabet letters is headed our way."

Katelyn Shriber, a mother of four, said she is concerned about the upcoming flu season in the midst of a pandemic. They are already planning ahead for the fall and winter.

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"We get our flu shot every year and we have done that for a long time. And that’s the number one thing that I’m going to do and will still do this year," said Shriber. "I think we will definitely be much more cautious, saying if you feel like you might be coming down with something let’s just stay home."

The mother, whose children range from a fifth-grader to a freshman in college, said it is important for her children to stay in the classroom after the hardships they overcame from remote learning. She said she hopes the upcoming flu activity doesn’t move schools or her children backward.

"I am really committed and feel it is so important for our children to be in school, even if this comes to pass that we do have a horrible flu season and we have another spike in COVID. I really hope that we can do whatever we can to make sure we put our children first this year and make sure they are still going to school," said Shriber.

The CDC is encouraging people to get the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine, especially those who haven’t yet but are eligible. With both viruses sharing similar symptoms, the CDC said it’s important to get tested to determine what the illness is and proper treatment.

Shriber said everyone in her family is vaccinated against COVID-19 except for her youngest son who isn’t old enough. Because of that, the upcoming flu season and the ongoing pandemic, Shriber said her family is taking every precaution…especially if it will help keep her kids in the classroom.

"All the more reason for me to do my part to make sure we’re wearing masks, we’re vaccinated, we wash our hands and we stay home if we’re sick," said Shriber.

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