CDC director says potentially worse second wave of coronavirus could come along with flu season

Author: Christopher Brito / CBS News and Veronica Marshall / WINK News
Published: Updated:
Coronavirus, COVID-19. CREDIT: Cropped Photo: Governor Tom Wolf / CC BY 2.0

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, is warning of a potentially worse second wave of coronavirus later this year. In an interview with the Washington Post published Tuesday, Redfield said the outbreak could flare up again and coincide with flu season, which could set up a dangerous double whammy for the health care system.

“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Redfield told the Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he added.

Florida Gulf Coast University Assistant Professor Robert Hawkes, is with the Department of Health Sciences.

He says, “The worst-case scenario would be if a lot of people do not receive the flu vaccine. So they’re more prone to developing it and they get COVID-19 on top of it…”

We asked Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, Spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America, if he foresees any difficulties in the next year of people getting the flu shot because of the social distancing rules and doctors’ offices being busy.

“I think there are enough opportunities to get the flu shot,” he said. “You could even have drive-thru types of flu shots if that was a concern.”

Hawkes said, “By then, hopefully the restrictions we have in place will certainly subside so people will be able to get the flu vaccine from their provider’s office or many retail pharmacies will do it as well. And there will probably be a lot of flu clinics.”

This year’s flu season is largely over, with CDC currently reporting low flu activity in the United States. While influenza viruses circulate all year, flu season typically begins between fall and winter, and the peak lasts from December to February. The numbers vary from year to year, but during the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC estimated 35.5 million people in the U.S. got sick with influenza, 490,600 were hospitalized and 34,200 died of the illness.

The first known coronavirus case in the U.S. was detected January, and since then there have been 820,000 confirmed cases in this country and more than 44,000 people have died, according to the latest data from John Hopkins University. The pandemic also put a huge strain on hospitals in many parts of the country, resulting in shortages of protective equipment and a scramble to obtain medical gear like ventilators.

When asked about Redfield’s assessment, FDA Commissioner Dr. Steven Hahn, who is part of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said it’s “certainly a possibility.”

“The whole task force set of doctors is concerned about the second wave,” Hahn said on “CBS This Morning” Wednesday. “Dr. Redfield’s concern is there also might be flu at the same time. That’s why we have built into the plan the surveillance mechanisms to look for the respiratory illnesses and then do the appropriate testing at that time. That’s going to be a critical part of the reopening plan to allow us to move forward.”

When the Washington Post asked Redfield about recent protests against stay-at-home orders and the calls for states to be “liberated” from restrictions — calls that were echoed by President Trump on Twitter — Redfield replied: “It’s not helpful.”

Health experts say the medical teams working on flu vaccines are different from those working on the coronavirus vaccine, so there shouldn’t be competition for resources.

Anyone who wants to get a flu vaccine this upcoming season should be able to get one.

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