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Healthy homes and flu shots important in fight against COVID-19

Getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever this year. Having more people vaccinated will help prevent overwhelming a health care system already dealing with COVID-19. Adobe stock.
Leigh Prather/Leigh Prather - stock.adobe.com

With an increase in COVID-19 cases in the area, back to school just around the corner and flu season not far behind, a local provider answers some questions about what residents can do to help protect themselves and their families in the upcoming months. Dr. David Wilcox is the chief medical officer as well as a practicing family medicine physician at the Sanford Clinic in Bemidji.

What demographics are you seeing with local cases?

As of Aug. 20, we’ve had 297 patients test positive out of 8,178 total tests. These patients have ranged from age 2 to over 95. Of those patients, 16 required hospitalization due to COVID-19 plus risk factors for severe disease. Five of the 16 required ICU care. Unfortunately, one patient passed away.

As schools gear up for fall, what advice do you have for parents to help

keep kids and themselves healthy?


Similar to how parents approach flu season, it is recommended that children and their families wash their hands, regularly clean high touch surfaces, like the handle of your refrigerator or a remote control, as well as encourage and teach children to wear their masks and social distance in public spaces.

The best way we can encourage these behaviors is leading by example. If we make it a part of our routine to put on our mask before we leave in the morning and wash our hands first thing when we get home, this can help instill these actions with our children.

Another key part of keeping the whole family healthy is identifying and isolating, as best as we can within our homes, anyone who may be sick in the family. This could mean confining them to a bedroom and bathroom or a section of the home separate from the rest of the family. This same principle can be used if a person has COVID-19 or influenza.

These viruses are more likely to infect those exposed to someone who is ill over a prolonged period of time (15 minutes or more) without wearing a mask or social distancing. We are more likely to experience this with those who are closest to us, like our family, friends and co-workers, rather than a stranger on the street.

What type of home care can people do if they are diagnosed with COVID?

Locally, we are seeing 94 percent of patients who test positive for COVID-19 requiring no additional care outside of their homes. We do offer a home monitoring care option for patients which allows our staff to regularly check in on them and monitor their symptoms and vitals from home in the event that their illness might worsen.

If their symptoms do worsen, the staff are able to get the patients the additional care that they may need, whether that’s a checkup with a provider, emergency care or even inpatient care within our hospital.

Why is getting a flu shot more important than ever this year?


Getting the flu vaccine every year is the best way to prevent infection with influenza. Similar to COVID-19, influenza causes many of the same symptoms including fever, cough, difficulty breathing and even death.

Especially this fall, it will be even more important that we get the flu vaccine to avoid this preventable disease, avoid a misdiagnosis for COVID-19 and preserve our community’s healthcare resources.

Similar to our current drive-up COVID-19 testing collection sites, we are looking at similar options for offering influenza vaccinations that meet this potential need in our community and is feasible to maintain later this fall when the weather changes. We are also working with the school system to add vaccine options.

What is the best time of year to get a flu shot?

Influenza vaccines remain in our system for approximately six months. After this point the protection provided by the vaccine declines, but does not immediately disappear, due to the lowering of antibodies that combat the influenza virus. This is why it is so important that we get a flu vaccine each year.

Typically, our flu season extends from October through early March with most cases occurring between December and February. Because of this, we recommend patients receive their flu vaccine in September or October before or at the beginning of the annual influenza season.

What are indicators people can look for that are different between the flu

and COVID-19?


Though we experience influenza each year and have developed some immunity to it and COVID-19 is a completely new virus our bodies have not dealt with before, symptoms for influenza and COVID-19 do overlap quite a bit. Because of this, the only way to definitively know which illness a patient might have, would be to test for them.

Because both influenza testing and COVID-19 testing use the same types of supplies and testing equipment, this will pose a challenge for all health care providers this fall. The one key difference between the two illnesses is that influenza is preventable with a vaccine. Like most viruses a history of exposure to a person with that particular is the biggest predictor of which illness you have.

In other words, if your exposure was to COVID, it is more likely you have COVID than influenza. Having had a flu shot makes it even more likely. You may not need a test to prove anything since the treatments are the same unless you are sick enough to be hospitalized.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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