SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) Health officials fear a "twindemic" is possible this winter if COVID-19 cases rise during flu season.
The County of Santa Cruz Public Health is urging everyone six months and older to get vaccinated for flu now, before the virus starts circulating.
“Vaccination not only reduces the risk of catching the flu, it also reduces the chance that you’ll be hospitalized, which will decrease the impact to our healthcare system,” said Chief of Public Health, Jennifer Herrera.
Flu activity typically peaks in Santa Cruz County in December and January, according to health officials.
Local health systems, like Watsonville Community Hospital, are preparing for a possible winter surge. This month all employees are getting their flu vaccinations and even have new equipment that can quickly determine if a patient has COVID-19 or influenza.
A machine made by the company BioFire tests for 21 different respiratory viruses and bacteria. Watsonville Hospital has been using it for the last month.
“Before the turnaround time was several days. Now we know in 45 minutes to an hour,” Laura Guido with Watsonville Hospital said.
As many as 50 tests can be processed in 24 hours. It's become a tool extremely valuable heading into flu season, which is a time of year that even without COVID-19 can fill emergency rooms.
“We’ve put a tremendous amount of planning in for COVID, and I think that’s going to greatly assist us when it comes to flu,” the hospital's CEO Sean Fowler said.
The city of Watsonville represents 56% of all coronavirus cases in Santa Cruz County. Right now Watsonville Community Hospital has 12 COVID patients, but Fowler says his hospital is ready for a surge if there is a so-called “twindemic”.
“Our Chief Nursing Officer Mary Straley does a fantastic job managing the surge planning. We have tents at the ready if we have to stage patients outside the hospital and bring them in. It all focuses on infection control prevention, and how do we manage the population so we can take care of ourselves and the population at large,” Fowler said.
Cases and hospitalizations are trending upwards in Santa Cruz County. Herrera said the data modeling shows it likely will continue to increase in the coming weeks.
You can get a flu shot through your primary care doctor or a pharmacy. If you don't have insurance, county clinics will provide flu shots for $15 to $69.