What will the upcoming flu season look like while the COVID-19 pandemic is still part of our everyday lives? While 2020 has been anything but predictable and this flu season may mirror that, the unknowns are largely around human behavior. How many people will get the flu vaccine? Will there be enough flu vaccine supply to meet the demand? Will people continue to practice social distancing, mask wearing and other protective behaviors?
“The good news is that the health and safety precautions to protect yourself from the flu and COVID-19 are almost identical,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “We applaud all LIUNA members across the U.S. and Canada who have been taking the necessary steps to protect themselves, their fellow members and their communities. We ask members to stay vigilant, get a flu shot if you can and discuss questions or concerns with your doctor.”
You may be experiencing pandemic fatigue, but now is not the time to relax behaviors like frequent handwashing and cough etiquette. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, notes that it’s time to hunker down for fall and winter. This is because as temperatures turn cooler, we will be spending more time indoors, where decreased ventilation compared to the outdoors increases risk for transmission of both the flu and COVID-19.
The Flu Season Curveball: COVID-19
Here are a few answers to some common questions about how the flu season will play out this year with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Can you have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time? Yes. Contact your healthcare provider if you aren’t feeling well. It may be hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone, but testing will help confirm a diagnosis.
- Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19? No. However, the flu vaccine does reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death.
- Will a COVID-19 vaccine be available this flu season? Researchers, developers and manufacturers are expediting the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. At this time, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Vaccines for COVID-19 must be approved by the FDA.
How Can Employers Protect Workers from the Flu and COVID-19?
- Provide free or subsidized flu vaccinations at your worksite, as long as it can be done safely and complies with COVID-19 regulations/ordinances in your area. If this isn’t a viable option, partner with nearby pharmacies or clinics to arrange for workers to get vaccinated (including days and hours that accommodate work schedules). Promote nearby locations for workers to get their flu vaccine, such as a doctor’s office or pharmacy.
- Provide workers with information about the seasonal flu. Order the Fund’s Cold vs. Flu Symptoms fact sheet and Cold and Flu toolbox talk from our Publications Catalogue.
- Encourage flu vaccination for employees’ families by distributing information for workers to take home.
- Maintain an adequate supply of tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand sanitizer and disposable wipes onsite for workers to use throughout the day.
- If one is not in place already, develop and implement a plan to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces throughout the workday.
- Encourage workers to take care of themselves and stay home if they are sick.
Flu Vaccine: What You Need to Know
Why? Just like COVID-19 precautions, this is a “do your part” situation. Getting vaccinated protects you, your family and your community from the flu. It can also help reduce strain on the health care system.
When? Aim to get the flu vaccine before the end of October.
Where? There are many places in your community where the flu vaccine is available, often free of charge. Start by contacting your doctor. You can also visit an in-network walk-in clinic or retail pharmacy location. Visit vaccinefinder.org to find the location closest to you.
Questions? Contact your LIUNA health and welfare fund or health insurance provider for specific questions regarding flu vaccine coverage.
How Can Workers Protect Themselves from the Flu and COVID-19?
- Get the flu vaccine.
- Practice respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces inside your home, vehicle and workspace.
- Take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, being physically active, managing stress in a healthy way, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you are sick.
[Emily Smith is the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Manager.]