Try to wrap your minds around these shocking statistics: The nation’s COVID-19 death toll surpassed 150,000 on Wednesday and U.S. health officials are reporting about 1,000 deaths per day.
Now, brace yourself for another shock. The influenza season is approaching, which could spell no end of trouble for New York and the rest of the country with the coronavirus still hanging around.
To try to get the jump on influenza, New York will give $30 million to its 62 counties to ramp up influenza testing and vaccine supplies to prepare for the upcoming season of coronavirus and flu diagnoses. The counties will also use the funding to maintain or increase COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.
The combination of the two diseases could alter plans for education as we head into the school year. There will be influenza tests and many people are likely to want COVID-19 testing. But as we’ve learned from the coronavirus, what we expect and what we get are two different things.
Influenza and COVID-19 symptoms differ, but they share similarities. Coronavirus patients most commonly report a dry cough, fever and shortness of breath. A fever and cough are two tell-tale signs of influenza, which is usually accompanied by sneezing, chills, muscle aches, congestion, runny nose, headache and fatigue.
New York labs will have to process influenza and COVID-19 tests at the same time. About 70% of the state’s 800-plus coronavirus testing sites are conducted by in-state laboratories, and results are available to patients within a few days. The remaining 30% of state coronavirus tests are sent to national testing labs, such as LabCorps or BioReference.
Will influenza season and the pervasive spread of COVID-19 merge into a single menacing perfect storm of disease? New York’s health and political leaders must rise to the challenge and see that this does not happen.