ATLANTA — With the possibility of the rebound in the state’s COVID-19 case rate going into the winter, public officials are urging Georgians to get their flu shot to avoid two viruses coinciding.
As of Tuesday, more than 324,000 Georgia residents had been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 7,229 had died from virus-related causes. With flu season fast approaching, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, warned of the possible impacts of a bad flu season.
“Never has it been more important to get a flu shot than this year,” she said. “We realize that people sometimes don't think a flu shot is effective, or are afraid to get it or just don't bother. This is particularly important this year. We're trying to prevent twindemics of COVID plus influenza, which could be devastating.”
While Toomey noted the combination of COVID-19 and influenza cases could have catastrophic outcomes, she said no one really knows what that combination might look like. But an increase in flu patients could mean a decrease in the state’s essential hospital bed capacity.
Health officials are encouraging everyone older than 6 months old get a flu shot. Toomey said children and elderly residents are particularly at risk.
With more Georgia children returning to classrooms, the combination of a large amount of COVID-19 cases and a prevalence of the flu in school systems could be dire.
A recent CNHI article reported that teachers, parents and staff voiced fears of contracting COVID-19 in the classroom in emails to the state superintendent in the weeks leading up to the first schools opening.
Gov. Brian Kemp said during a press conference Wednesday that issues with schools reopening amid the pandemic were expected.
“We knew that when schools went back there would be issues that schools had to deal with — they’ve done that,” he said.
As of Oct. 6, according to the Department of Public Health, there have been 330 outbreaks recorded in Georgia schools, falling only behind nursing homes and long-term care facilities for settings with the most recorded outbreaks.
Kemp said, even in regular times, schools often have to deal with illness outbreaks. The Republican governor said the state’s strategy is to mitigate the spread as best as possible when cases are reported in schools.
"This is not something new to them — obviously COVID-19 is new to them — but dealing with viruses, whether you made a flu virus or a stomach virus,” he said. “Our educators and administrators have had to deal with this kind of thing before and will continue to help them along the way.”
Toomey said there are more than 307,000 doses of the flu vaccine already delivered to local health districts and more than 400,000 additional doses will be sent out statewide in the coming weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta lists online that the agency believes “it’s likely” coronavirus and influenza could spread simultaneously throughout the fall and winter. It is also possible for an individual to have both at the same time.