Americans could be staring down the worst public health crisis in recent history if COVID-19 rages on into the flu season, CDC warns

Residents wait in line for free groceries distributed at a pop-up food pantry by the 101st Engineer Battalion of the Massachusetts Army National Guard amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., April 24, 2020

If the coronavirus continues to rage on, the US could experience the worst public health crisis in modern history, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield warned, saying that the mixture of coronavirus with the annual flu season could lead to a public health crisis. 

He advised people to not only “wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and be smart about crowds,” but to also get a flu shot. The flu killed 80,000 Americans in the 2017-2018 season. 

Getting a flu shot helps protect people and limit the strain on the healthcare system. 

Redfield said the measures used to curb the spread of the coronavirus could help curb the flu as well. 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that public health in the United States could reach a critical juncture during the fall season if the coronavirus rages on. 

The seasonal flu combined with growing coronavirus cases could amplify the effects of the deadly pandemic, CDC  Director Dr. Robert Redfield said during an interview with the medical blog, WebMD. 

“I’m asking you to do four simple things: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and be smart about crowds. If you do those four things it will bring this outbreak down,” Redfield said.  “But, if we don’t do that … this could be the worst fall from a public health perspective we’ve ever had.”

“I keep telling people, I’m not asking some of America to do it — we all got to do it,” Redfield said, suggesting that where the US goes from here depends in part on whether Americans practice the recommended steps that scientists and public health officials have been advocating for months since COVID-19 began spreading in the US.

“It’s dependent on how the American people choose to respond,” Redfield said. “It’s really the worst of times or the best of times, depending on the American public. I’m optimistic.”

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The US is among the countries that have the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, with over 5.2 million recorded infections and more than 167,000 deaths as of August 13. 

On Wednesday, the US reported 55,910 new cases. The country also recorded the highest number of single-day deaths since mid-May: 1,499.

Redfield also advised Americans to get their flu shot this year and emphasized that the measures being used to curb the spread of the coronavirus, like social distancing and wearing masks, would also help limit the spread of the flu. 

According to CBS News, the flu is a common cause of death in the US, but less than half of the population got a flu vaccine last year. 

The 2017-2018 flu season was the deadliest in modern history. More than 80,000 people died from the viral infection, CNN reported at the time. 

The CDC has urged the public to get a flu shot to help protect themselves and also limit the burden on the healthcare system. Redfield hopes to have 65% of the population vaccinated for the flu this year, CBS reported.

“We’re going to have COVID in the fall, and we’re going to have flu in the fall, and either one of those by themselves can stress certain hospital systems,” Redfield said. “I’ve seen hospital intensive care units stretched by a severe flu season, and clearly we’ve all seen it recently with COVID.”

“So, by getting that flu vaccine, you may be able to negate the necessity to have to take up a hospital bed, and then that hospital bed can be more available for those that get hospitalized with COVID,” he said.

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