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COVID-19 still around as influenza season arrives

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to merge with influenza season, prompting an urgent warning from an infectious disease expert to cover up and taken preventative measures after heading indoors.

“We can’t predict what the future holds for this virus in terms of its spread and severity, especially as we enter the flu season and spend more time indoors,” said Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director, infectious diseases, UPMC Susquehanna.

Dalal said use of masks, washing hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer use and social distancing are going to be needed to control an outbreak.

“You should wear a facemask in situations where you are around people who are not members of your own household and can’t consistently maintain other preventative measures like social distancing,” Dalal said. “When you can’t consistently maintain 6 feet of social distancing,” he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf has required facial masks to be worn when in public places and when social distancing can’t be done.

Not adhering to guidelines like wearing a mask and social distancing “will only further delay reopening our communities and extend the restrictions that are currently in place,” he said.

For those showing symptoms of COVID-19, “you should not go out,” Dalal said.

Dalal noted if these preventative measures are taken, the region can avoid the impacts of broader closures, including those of workplaces, businesses, schools and other activities.

There are some glimmers of hope seen even as the flu season is here.

Looking at the hospital network’s case positive rates, the amount of time patients spend in the hospital, their need for intensive care or use of ventilators and death rates — all are far lower now than in the earlier part of the pandemic.

“We have found better treatments, like steroids and more effective clinical protocols,” Dalal said of COVID-19.

Additionally, the hospital system has better use of care steps, including patient positioning and breathing machine use, he said.

Datal — UPMC’s and others’ — suggest that this virus is changing in important ways.

“People are now experiencing less frequent bouts of severe impact,” Dalal said. That, perhaps, may mean the virus is less virulent, or severe in its effects, he said.

For Dalal, these reasons for optimism don’t mean it’s time to go back to normal, as it was before COVID-19.

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