Double Impact: Bracing for the Flu Season and COVID-19

This year’s flu season marks a decisive moment in health care. The actions people take now will determine the potential of a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and the flu, which could lead to more serious respiratory conditions and overburden our health system.

In preparation for a COVID-19 and influenza double epidemic, hospitals and health systems are accelerating efforts to inform and engage people in their communities about preventive measures. From easy-access vaccination programs to combination testing to wear-a-mask campaigns, the health care field is doing all it can to stand ready and keep communities safe. Here are their stories.

Disclaimer - References and links to organizations outside the AHA are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily constitute endorsements.

What to Know When Flu Season Strikes
Lovelace Health System, New Mexico

Lovelace Health System created a series of educational blog articles to help people stay healthy during flu season. From “Don’t Wait, Vaccinate” to “Surviving the Cold and Flu Season with Kids” to “Diabetes and the Flu,” the series is tailored to the meet the needs of all people no matter their age, health condition or lifestyle.

Protecting Yourself and Your ‘Ohana’
Queen’s Health Systems, Hawaii

Getting a flu shot, wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing protects not only yourself but also your ohana — family — said Jill Hoggard Green, CEO of Queen’s Health Systems, in a recent interview with Hawaii Public Radio. The Honolulu-based health system has been offering drive-thru flu shot clinics at many of its locations to make flu vaccination safe and convenient. In addition, the Queen’s website outlines “Easy Ways to Avoid the Flu Virus,” highlighting simple actions like washing your hands and keeping your fingers away from your face.

Encouraging a Community to Fight Flu Together
Wilson Medical Center, North Carolina

At Wilson Medical Center, the staff is committed to making sure residents of Wilson County and surrounding communities understand how to fight preventable diseases, like the flu. Chief Nursing Officer Theresa Dix encourages patients to not take any chances with their health this flu season by getting the flu vaccine, which also helps prevent flu from spreading.

Cone Health knows that when people take an active role in their health, they are more likely to make better lifestyle decisions. And the internet plays a big role in that. Cone Health created an online destination called Wellness Matters, featuring a wide range of educational resources, so people can learn as much as possible about their health and take responsibility for managing their conditions. These days, people will find practical information about flu season, the effects of COVID-19 and the importance of getting a flu shot.

Protecting Veterans from a Possible ‘Twindemic’
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, South Carolina

“It is possible to get COVID-19 and flu at the same time,” writes Scott Isaacks, director at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, in Charleston, South Carolina. Anticipating the “serious impact” of a season with both viruses, he is urging veterans to get a flu shot “to protect yourself and the community.” The medical center developed a plan to provide flu vaccination for veterans, at no cost.

Concert Proceeds Fund Free Flu Clinic
Thompson Health, New York

For many years, Thompson Health has partnered with Constellation Brands and CMAC performing arts center to offer a free flu clinic, funded by proceeds from tips collected from concertgoers. Though most CMAC shows in 2020 were canceled or rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a donation from CMAC and Constellation Brands still funded the flu clinic this fall. This clinic in the community of Canandaigua, New York, provides free flu shots to adults and children ages 9 and older, whether they are uninsured or underinsured.

Protecting Our Most Vulnerable Patients
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Illinois

During the winter and early spring seasons when the flu is most common, taking simple prevention measures, like washing hands, helps people of all ages ward off this highly contagious respiratory virus. Yet children are more susceptible to the virus because of their still-developing immune systems. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is encouraging parents to remind their children often about the do's and don’ts of preventing the spread of infection.

Identifying How the Influenza Virus Spreads
Saint Luke's Health System, Missouri and Kansas

On its website, Saint Luke's Health System illustrates exactly how the flu affects a person’s respiratory tract. People visiting the site will learn who is at risk for the flu, how it spreads and its symptoms. Unlike a cold, the flu can make people very ill and lead to serious complications, including pneumonia.

Making Communities Healthier
Trios Health, Washington

In keeping with its mission of “making communities healthier,” Trio Health, based in southeastern Washington state, is ensuring the communities it serves understand how to fight the influenza virus. The most important advice from the health system: Get a flu vaccine to reduce the risk of illness. According to the website: “Getting your vaccination will help give you valuable peace of mind that you’re doing everything you can to guard against the flu, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic surges on.”

A Simple Way to Keep the Flu Away
Valley Children’s Healthcare, California

You can prevent the flu this season by taking one simple step: Get a flu vaccine. That’s the key message Valley Children's Healthcare is sharing with its communities this season. And the health care network is “rooting out rumors” that are preventing people from getting vaccinated. Educational resources explain the flu shot’s efficacy and encourage people to talk with their health care provider. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated, including pregnant women.

HonorHealth wants to know: Have you received your badge of honor this year by getting a flu shot? With over 26 primary care locations across Arizona, HonorHealth caregivers are working to care for their community, including offering convenient appointment times for flu shots and providing online resources to help people navigate the flu season.

Offering Flu Shots and Building Trust
M Health Fairview, Minnesota

For more than 14 years, M Health Fairview has partnered with local faith-based and community groups to offer free flu vaccines to uninsured, underserved people in the Twin Cities. Flu shots are administered through Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative, or MINI, clinics, led by M Health Fairview’s Community Advancement team. These MINI clinics are set up in nontraditional settings — like churches, mosques, temples and schools — and often at off-hour times when families are more likely to attend. Along with offering flu shots, this initiative is helping build trust within the community. “When MINI sets up a clinic in a faith community, the trust that people hold in that institution is, in a way, transferred to MINI,” said Pat Peterson, M Health Fairview faith community outreach manager, who helped launch the program.

Photo Credit: M Health Fairview

“Busted!” Campaign Dispels Flu and Flu Shot Myths
CHI St. Alexius Health, North Dakota

CHI St. Alexius Health, based in Bismarck, North Dakota, is using a creative social media campaign to dispel myths about the flu and flu shots. Example: “It’s better to get the flu than get the shot.” Busted!” The flu virus remains one of the top 10 leading causes of death each year in the U.S. “Healthy people don’t need to get a flu shot.” Busted! While it is very important for high-risk populations, everyone benefits from getting vaccinated, especially during this COVID pandemic. The regional health system’s flu webpage has more information, including about walk-in or by-appointment flu shots.

Photo Credit: @CHIStAlexius

What This Year’s Flu Vaccine Can Do
Mayo Clinic, Minnesota

In the full swing of the flu season, health care providers continue to push the importance of getting a flu vaccine. On its website, Mayo Clinic is highlighting how effective the flu shot has been and how this season’s flu shot will offer protection against three or four of the influenza viruses expected to circulate. The website reminds people that while the flu vaccine is the best defense against the flu, additional steps such as washing hands often and wearing a mask can reduce the severity of spread. Mayo Clinic is offering flu shots at locations in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.

Making Flu Prevention Easier
Prisma Health, South Carolina

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the U.S., health care providers know that making flu shots not only accessible but also safe and convenient matters. That’s why Prisma Health is offering an alternative to in-house vaccinations, with drive-through testing available at seven locations across the communities the health care organization serves. In addition, Prisma Health has intensified its flu prevention education efforts with a wealth of prevention and care resources available online.

Flu Vaccines for Kids and Caregivers
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Nebraska

Flu shots are a family affair. Clinicians recommend that children ages 6 months and older get vaccinated, especially during this cold and flu season. Omaha-based Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is reminding parents that any household contacts and caregivers of infants younger than 6 months should get a flu shot, as well as breast-feeding mothers. Children who have never received a flu vaccine need two doses the first year to develop immunity and protection against the flu virus. The health care center’s website lists clinic locations and times for families to get their flu shots together.

Encouraging Kids to Become Flu Fighters
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Ohio

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital teamed up with First Ladies for Health, a group of pastors' wives in the greater Cincinnati area, to educate local families about this year’s flu season and increase the number of vaccinated children. The annual campaign offers screenings, vaccines and education at churches and recreation centers. The goal is to vaccinate 50% more kids than last year.

On Chicago’s South Side and in the south suburbs, UChicago Medicine is offering residents convenient locations to get a flu vaccine and lower the risk of influenza spreading. Using a colorful infographic cartoon called "You may have influenza if ...," the health care system highlights symptoms to help people identify if they have a cold or the flu and when to call a doctor for help.

Take Your Best (Flu) Shot
Baylor Scott & White Health, Texas

“Take Your Best Shot to STOP the Flu” is the theme for Baylor Scott & White’s campaign this flu season. To help people quickly find convenient locations to get their flu shot, the Dallas-based health system’s website links to clinics, pharmacies and primary care provider offices that are offering flu shots across Central and North Texas. 

Keeping Employees Healthy and Safe This Flu Season 
Johns Hopkins Medicine, Maryland

Dedicated to the safety, health and well-being of its patients and staff, Johns Hopkins Medicine requires that all employees receive the flu vaccine each year. In a season when COVID-19 and influenza may create greater challenges, this is even more important. Johns Hopkins is partnering with Walgreens to make it easier for employees to get their flu shot. Walgreens pharmacists will be administering the vaccine to Johns Hopkins employees on-site at the medical center and at Walgreens retail locations.

Getting Flu Shots Sooner, not Later
NYC Health + Hospitals, New York

New York has been a COVID-19 hot spot, so health officials there are concerned the flu season will make the pandemic even more complicated. That’s why NYC Health + Hospitals is telling New Yorkers “this year’s flu vaccine could be the most important one you ever get.” With locations in every New York borough, the health system is urging residents to get a flu shot early this year, before the virus begins spreading in their communities.

A recent YouTube webinar video featured a trio of York Hospital clinicians talking about all things flu: the science behind flu vaccinations, how immunity works, the main influenza vaccine types and the “rules” about flu vaccines for children. The presenters also shared links to more resources about the flu so people in the York community can stay informed and protect themselves and loved ones.   

As flu season hits communities across the country, people want to know about the similarities and differences between flu symptoms and COVID-19. Intermountain Healthcare created an easy-to-use “Symptom Comparison Table” that explains the different signs and symptoms of a cold, flu, seasonal allergies and COVID-19. It’s available on Intermountain’s website, along with other valuable information to help people stay healthy this season.

Flu season is here. University Hospitals has ramped up their resources by creating a webpage highlighting flu treatment services that can keep their communities as healthy as possible. Resources include expert advice on the best time to get the flu vaccine, why older adults should consider getting a higher dose, and how the flu spreads.

Flu Shots, Immunizations and COVID-19
Sarasota Memorial Health, Florida

As flu season converges with the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarasota Memorial Health is keeping its community informed about the importance of well visits, immunizations and flu vaccination. Manual Gordillo, M.D., medical director, SMH infection prevention and control, answers questions in this YouTube video.

Flu Shots Protect Everyone
ThedaCare, Wisconsin

Spreading the word on its social media channels, ThedaCare is encouraging residents throughout northeast and central Wisconsin to get a flu shot — to protect themselves and everyone around them. The health system’s Twitter posts link to CDC info and a video from the “Flu Guy” at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Drive-through Flu Shots
Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket Cottage Hospital is offering its community the convenience of drive-through flu shots on weekdays and Saturday mornings with no appointment necessary. Flu shots can be given in people’s cars, and bicyclists and people on foot are welcome at the drive-through too.  

What You Need to Know About the Flu This Year
UM Charles Regional Medical Center, Maryland

The University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center is educating its community about why this flu season will be different due to COVID-19. One of the medical center’s Better Health blogs, “What You Need to Know About the Seasonal Flu This Year,” explains why getting a flu shot is more important than ever and discusses other preventive measures for staying healthy during this doubly dangerous season.

doctor sitting at desk talks to patient

5 Things to Know About Flu Shots
UNC Health, North Carolina

UNC Health is reminding its community about the importance of getting a flu shot this season and how it will help prevent a “twindemic.” In an UNC Health Talk blog, Sarah Ruff, M.D., outlines “5 Things to Know about Flu Shots During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

In an article in The Seattle Times, UW Medicine’s John Lynch, M.D., director of infection control at Harborview Medical Center, speaks on the importance of getting the flu vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever — not only to keep you and your family and the community safe from flu, but also to keep people with these other COVID-like illnesses out of doctor’s offices and emergency departments.”

Can the flu shot give you the flu? Jesse Campbell, M.D., community president at Mercy Clinic in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, discusses common misconceptions about getting a flu shot. Mercy health system, which serves communities across four states, posts more helpful info about flu shots and their effectiveness on its “Flu Vaccine” web page.

“Children who have been educated on proper hand washing reached developmental milestones 6 months earlier than those who did not.” That’s one of “11 Things You Didn’t Know that You Need to Know About Washing Your Hands,” in a video shared by Marshall Medical Center. The hospital’s fall 2020 newsletter highlights information on how to be prepared for both the flu and COVID-19.

In a New York Times article, "Fearing a 'Twindemic,’ Health Experts Push Urgently for Flu Shots,” Patsy Stinchfield, senior director of infection prevention at Children’s Minnesota, describes the flu vaccine as a “critical weapon” in preparing and protecting the body during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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