Texas doctors ironing out plans to address upcoming flu season during COVID-19 pandemic


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, along with other state and University of Texas System officials, met Thursday to discuss the upcoming flu season and how the state plans to manage it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With a flu season that could be prolific, if that leads to greater hospitalizations, coupled with the hospitalizations that we’re seeing for COVID-19, you can easily see how hospitals in this region as well as across Texas will be completely overrun with an inability for the hospitals to take care of the medical needs of everybody in the entire region,” Gov. Abbott explained Thursday.

Governor Abbott was joined by Texas Department of State Health and Human Services Commissioner John Hellerstadt, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, UT System Executive Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs John Zerwas, and UT Southwestern Medical Center President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky.

Meanwhile, in Austin, Beverly Oeljten, 73, worries how she might safely get a flu vaccine. She’s at high risk for COVID-19 and has mostly stayed inside since March.

“I’ve only done curbside, mail order, haven’t gone in any stores since March 14,” Oeltjen said.

Her family gatherings, like many others around the state and the nation, have gone virtual.

“We do Wednesday night zoom with my family all over the country,” she said.

Hospital groups in Texas indicated they’re exploring how to conduct large scale drive thru flu shot clinics this fall.

“I would be willing to bet that most places are going to have to move to some type of a drive thru type situation, minimize risks overall and then everybody just get vaccinated,” Dr. Gladys Weng, with Baylor Scott & White Health, said Thursday.

Doctors in the state are identifying ways to streamline testing for both viruses— influenza and the novel coronavirus.

“We’re looking at a combined swab,” Dr. Weng said. “Basically we’d just stick you once and we’ll check you for flu and for COVID.”

Those plans have not yet been finalized, but hospital systems are finalizing those processes.

During Gov. Abbott’s address, he said Texans need to continue to be vigilant about safety protocols put in place for COVID-19 as flu season approaches.

“Until we have medications that are capable of treating COVID-19, the only tool that we have to slow it spread is by everybody adopting these practices of wearing masks and maintaining best practices,” Gov. Abbott said Thursday.

The Governor also encouraged everyone to get a flu vaccine as early as possible this season in order to help ensure hospitals are not overrun.

“One of the things we wanted to urge everybody today is to first understand the importance of getting ahead of the curve with regard to the flu during this time with COVID-19, and the best way that you can get ahead of the curve is by going up and making sure that you do get a flu vaccine,” Gov. Abbott said.

Dr. Podolsky echoed the Governor’s plea.

“We do understand we’re facing a challenge of a flu season unlike any other because of the convergence with COVID-19,” Dr. Podolsky explained, “I can’t emphasize too strongly, your message of the importance, this year of getting that vaccine early so that we do everything we can to diminish the overall impact of flu, and the potential stress it will place on our ability to provide all the care needed.”

Gov. Abbott said it is likely COVID-19 treatments will be available before an actual vaccine for the virus is an option.

“My anticipation is that before seeing a COVID vaccine, we will see additional COVID treatments that will provide some level of assistance, but not what you would see through the type of immunization that would occur because of a COVID vaccine,” Gov. Abbott said Thursday.

The Governor said there is hope that this flu season will be less severe than years’ past because Texans are already implementing safety protocols for COVID-19, including wearing masks and social distancing.

“That should lead to a flu season that is not as severe as it would otherwise be. And so if Texans can continue the discipline and practice of all the same practices that will reduce and slow the spread of COVID-19, it will also produce a slow the spread of the flu,” Gov. Abbott said Thursday.

In the meantime, Oeltjen is patiently waiting for when she can hug her grandkids again— settling for socially-distant visits for now.

“I’m just trying to be careful,” she said.

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