COVID and Influenza

By Lisa Rose-Rodriguez

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused people in Cuyahoga County to adjust to a new normal. Shopping, for instance, now includes “where is my mask?” In pre-epidemic society, the questions were: Do they take checks? Will I be able to park close to the entrance?

Questions that are asked and then answered allow us to reevaluate our perceptions. On March 23rd of this year, Governor DeWine presented his strategy of a stay at home order. This was designed to reduce virtual transmission between residents of Ohio. The full order was originally slated to end on April 6.

Here we are in October having managed to live with the new virus through three seasons, beginning in the spring, passing through the summer, and staying in the fall. The flu season began in September. According to the Centers for Disease Control: “In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May.” Medical professionals and Public Health workers refer to the flu as influenza, and like the CORONA virus, it is a respiratory illness.

This is an important fact to comprehend because November is upon us and now residents of Ohio are being burdened with a pandemic during the flu season. The CDC states: “Because of the  COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illness, like flu, this fall and winter is more important than ever.”  The President of the United States remarked at one of his briefings earlier this year that this would not be the case, living with the Pandemic during the Autumn season, but here we are.  For those of us who are professional Public Health workers, this is suggestive of COVID-19 becoming an endemic disease. Endemic has one connotation of being native to the local environment.  Since Pan means “all” in Greek, pandemic means being exposed to a virus that has spread all around the world, and now it has settled in our backyards. Clearly, this disease hasn’t gone away in the way many had hoped. Epidemiologists refer to this as an endemic disease.  CORONA has not been eliminated through widespread vaccinations. Flu shots are available and have been in extra quantity this season, but the CORONA immunization plans are still being worked out and no vaccine is available to the public as of this writing.

Fighting infectious diseases and winning is one of the hallmarks of modern society. Concerted world efforts have greatly reduced Polio, and is an example of a disease being eradicated: “Polio does still exist, although polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated more than 350 000 cases to 22 reported cases in 2017. This reduction is the result of the global effort to eradicate the disease.” The vaccine created by Jonas Salk was introduced in 1955, thirty-three years after that, the number of reported cases has gone from hundreds of thousands to dozens. How old will you be thirty-three years from now? Can you get a Flu shot? Can you wear a mask?