Local health experts believe face masks, social distancing may lead to lighter flu season

SPOKANE, Wash.–The last six months of this COVID-19 pandemic have been a learning experience for all of us. Now, those lessons learned may just help us fight off another respiratory virus, like the flu.

That’s what Australia is seeing now in the middle of its winter.

“They’ve had a very light flu season, really because they’re masking, they’re social distancing, they’re hand-washing and they’re getting vaccinated,” Dr. Dan Getz of Providence Health said.

Dr. Getz said he’s already seen patients earlier this year infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

“If you’re dealing with two viral infections, your body is now having to mount response on two different fronts, basically like fighting a war on two fronts,” Getz said. “It’s much more difficult.”

That’s when the lessons learned over the last six months come into play — Getz feels like local hospitals are more prepared to handle a mix of COVID and flu cases. Part of that is because they’ve learned what treatments work best for COVID-19, like Remdesivir, the anti-viral drug.

“The death rates are declining, so we’re getting better at treating that disease, especially in people with severe illness,” Getz said.

Recovering from COVID-19 and the flu at the same time will depend on how healthy a person is.

You can expect older people to still have the hardest time staying healthy over the next several months, especially as people spend more time indoors.

“That’s the thing about these respiratory viruses,” Getz said. “They spread very easily.”

The flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19, but it gives you the best chance at staying healthy this winter.

And as we’ve learned this year, hospital capacity is important, and a flu shot may keep you out of a hospital bed.

“It looks like the vaccine we have this year hits it pretty good,” Getz said. “It should give us pretty good protection.”