So far, it’s looking like this coming cold and flu season could go two ways: It could either be mild, with fewer cases than in previous years, or it could be really, really bad. All of it depends on how we keep up our COVID preventative measures, says Anthony Harris, chief innovation officer and associate medical director for WorkCare. “Good hand hygiene, cough etiquette, wearing face masks when you’re out and about — all those things that we’ve hopefully heard over and over regarding keeping yourself safe from COVID, those will be effective for limiting spread of cold and flu during this season, as well,” he tells me.
To put it simply, decreased exposure to others and our new habit of not touching our faces should limit our opportunities to contract the cold or flu this year. That said, it’s not fool-proof. Part of preparing for cold and flu season amidst COVID, then, is considering what you might do if you start to feel sick.
“What do you do when you start having the sniffles or sore throat? You should still take the steps to isolate yourself from your household members, but you need a strategy that’s going to involve your primary care provider and getting COVID tested,” says Harris. “If you do have symptoms during cold and flu season, then it’s appropriate to go ahead and get tested to make sure you don’t have COVID.”
Between the common cold, the flu and COVID-19, you can at least dramatically reduce your risk of becoming sick with one of the three. “Make sure you get flu-vaccinated,” says Harris. “Studies coming out of Brazil looking at tens of thousands of people who got the flu vaccine show that the trivalent flu vaccine of 2020 can actually decrease risk of dying from COVID if you should contract it,” he says. “We don’t know enough yet, but it may have to do with priming the immune system. More research is definitely necessary.”
Per Harris, it still remains to be seen exactly how flu shot administering will play out this fall. There may be increased demand, while supply chains could be disrupted by COVID. It’s possible, though, that people will be able to walk into a pharmacy and get a low-cost flu shot just like in previous years.
If we’re all able to keep up with the practices we’ve had over the last several months as we enter cold and flu season, we might have a better shot at avoiding our usual annual ailments this year than in previous years. But if we become too lax and transition our outdoor social-distance hangouts into indoor, close-quarters ones, we might have a bigger problem. Odds are, you’ll get through a cold or flu just fine, but the added stress of wondering if you have COVID is something nobody needs right now.