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Arizona prepares for another possible COVID-19 wave with flu season on the horizon

“The pandemic is not over, regardless of all the statistics values that we can see are up and down.”

PHOENIX — Friday the U.S. hit a new milestone with more than 8 million COVID-19 cases as deaths reach 218,330 across the nation. 

According to Johns Hopkins University, 36 states are seeing an increased daily average of new COVID-19 cases. Health experts are concerned the steady increase could point to a devastating winter with flu season on the horizon.

Dignity Health officials in Arizona are urging the public to get a flu shot this year. “The pandemic is not over, regardless of all the statistics values that we can see are up and down,”  said Dignity Health Infectious Disease Consultant and Epidemiologist Dr. Omar Gonzales. 

On Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey acknowledged a "slight uptick" of COVID-19. “Arizonans have been phenomenal in terms of masking up, socially distancing, washing their hands. That’s going to be the path forward,” said the Governor.  

Arizona's COVID-19 R0, pronounced "R-Naught" is the rate the virus spreads throughout a community. An R0 of "1" is mathematically considered the benchmark. Any number under "1" means the virus is not spreading. Any number over means it is widespread. Arizona’s transmission rate has been above "1" since early September and continues to rise. 

Credit: https://rt.live/us/AZ

Hospitals are seeing an increase in hospitalizations with increases in acute care therapies, ventilator usage and emergency room visits. “It’s a concern for us, especially since the FLU season is going to start,” said Dr. Gonzales. “It’s very important that we keep in mind regardless of our fatigue, regardless of our own personal beliefs that science is with us on how we mitigate this problem.”

Mitigations includes universal mask-wearing, handwashing and social distance but as we head into flu season, experts suggest the adding the flu vaccine. 

“We have to incorporate the influenza vaccine. It’s tremendously important. I can not stress more about that,” said Dr. Gonzales. “We saw a high number of COVID patients in the hospital this summer, and while our state’s numbers thankfully have been lower, we cannot lose sight of the flu season.” 

Dr. Gonzales says Dignity Health is currently in a stable position in caring for patients. Dignity Health reminds the public that influenza remains one of the top ten leading causes of death every year across the country. Both COVID-19 and influenza impact those with chronic illnesses, placing them at a greater risk for complications like pneumonia. 

“We are very concerned and want to do our best to prevent people from contracting the flu and COVID-19 during the fall and winter when the flu is most prominent,” Dr. Gonzalez further explains. “We don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, but we have been vaccinating against influenza for nearly a century. Aside from the basic prevention methods for COVID-19, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, the best we can do for each other is to get a flu shot and get it early in the season.”

FLU SHOT RECOMMENDATIONS 

Dignity Health: 

"The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for anyone older than six months of age, including pregnant women. It takes approximately two weeks for a flu vaccine to become effective as antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses such as COVID-19.

As with any highly contagious respiratory illness, it is important to avoid close contact with those who are sick and stay home if you are sick; wear a mask when in public; wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds and carry hand sanitizer with you to use frequently when soap and water are unavailable. It’s also recommended to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; disinfect frequently touched surfaces often; ensure you are maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet whenever possible and use your elbow to cover coughs and sneezes."