UPMC doctors on Tuesday said there is optimism among experts that this year’s flu season will be mild, but they cautioned that everyone should get a flu vaccine and continue covid-19 mitigation efforts, such as masking and social distancing.
The doctors stressed those mitigation efforts are the best defense against the covid-19 pandemic that continues to kill scores across the country and world. They said protective measures are likely what has kept the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season, reaching its end right now, relatively low.
“If our community stays strong and continues to do what we need to do to prevent covid-19, this may help reduce the impact of influenza and other viruses,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention.
Doctors said the health system has has been working to expand both covid-19 and influenza testing as well as making sure all providers know how to handle patients who come to them with upper respiratory symptoms.
Synder said people with symptoms will be tested for one or both depending on their personal circumstances and the community spread of the flu. The emphasis, when necessary, will be on covid testing.
He reiterated that optimism is hinged on the public staying the course in terms of mitigation efforts — specifically, masking and social distancing.
“Anyone who says masking does not make a difference is dead wrong,” said Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer of UPMC’s senior communities.
On the livestream of the press conference, Nace held up his mask.
“Right now, this is your best protection,” he said. “This is the mask that you should be wearing, because this, whether young or old, is your current vaccine.”
He said those who wear a mask and get infected often have less severe symptoms than those who become infected and haven’t worn a mask.
Dr. Donald Yealy, chair of emergency medicine, spoke pointedly about the idea of forgoing a mask.
“It’s important to recognize that being uncomfortable with the mask is dramatically different than the mask harming you,” he said. “The number of people who cannot tolerate a mask for medical reasons is exceptionally small.”
Yealy said the covid-19 prevention guidance can answer any number of questions.
“If you follow the principle and understand those, you can answer the question about school, about sporting events, about Halloween if you want,” he said. “It’s really the same basic principle that will help keep everyone safe.
“The answer isn’t to skip the mask,” he said.
Snyder, too, spoke about the push to allow sports fans back into the stands.
“It all comes back to … masking and distancing,” he said. “Is it safe for people to attend those sporting events? It all depends on how well people can mask and distance at those events.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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