The annual flu season is something facilities prepare for year after year, but this year facilities everywhere are also dealing with unpredictable challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t yet know what impact flu season will have this year, but some have predicted that flu season will increase or even double the burden on healthcare facilities as they continue to treat COVID-19 patients. Others have suggested there may be a decline in flu cases with social distancing guidelines and healthy hand washing habits already in place.
Regardless of the impact, facilities should be prepared to face anything, and as the CDC’s flu season preparation page
states, “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu this fall and winter is more important than ever.”
At Medxcel facilities across the country, our associates have been preparing to handle flu season as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in many states. Having designated messaging and strong communication is the key to disaster preparedness and prevention. All of our facilities currently have COVID-19 signage, but recently our teams have installed supplemental flu season signage to share symptoms, prevention tips and more. Signage should encourage social distancing and be printed in languages accessible to members of that community.
COVID-19 and influenza are both contagious respiratory illnesses and present similar symptoms, so it may be tricky to differentiate the two at times. It’s important that healthcare professionals, facilities staff and the public are all aware of these differences. COVID-19 tends to spread more rapidly than the flu and can cause more serious illnesses in individuals with a higher risk because there is no vaccine available. Unlike the flu, COVID-19 can also cause a loss of smell or taste.
As our Vice President of Emergency Management Scott Cormier recommends, “Remember, as we have been during the current crisis, to communicate early, often and honestly with your staff and patients. Make sure people know what they need to know to stay safe in your facilities, train designated caregivers, and don’t let social media be their primary information source.”
Emergency management teams have been working hard to secure supplies for shortages, such as acquiring PPE like masks and gowns. It’s crucial for facilities to diversify their supply chains to prevent having a “sole source” or single vendor in case that vendor was unable to deliver. Here at Medxcel, we’ve developed a network of additional channels and trusted partners to provide items when they become difficult to find.
While preparing for flu season is routine this time of year, facilities teams should continue to look at their response in past years and make adjustments to improve. Teams need to continue having conversations year-round about what needs to be done today and tomorrow to address the current needs of any organization. This allows facilities to continuously adapt and reevaluate goals to understand how to best serve patients.
As the height of flu season approaches, we will continue to monitor and adjust our responses as new information becomes available. Developing and implementing an infectious disease plan is only the beginning. Maintaining a successful plan throughout the year and ensuring everyone knows their role is the difficult part. Our associates have done a tremendous job in maintaining plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the influenza in our facilities and will continue to adapt as the resilience of our facilities is tested with these crises.
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