MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – Editor’s Note: This is a four-part series on the symptoms, interventions, impacts and future relating to COVID-19. Watch this location for more installments.
Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., first published a story on COVID-19 in January. The virus has consumed every day since; and it rages on. Where does that leave a pandemic-weary world?
As we head into the holiday season where people are yearning to gather with family and friends, and behave as normally as possible, medical professionals are encouraging caution and vigilance.
On November 15, Washington’s governor instated heightened restrictions statewide in an attempt to reduce infection rates and avoid the overburdening of medical facilities and staffs.
"We're going into a precarious situation," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a livestreamed interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As the weather chills and people spend more time indoors and in closer quarters with one another, the opportunity for this virus, or any virus, to spread increases. Add to that the interest in getting together with loved ones who do not live in the same household and there is real cause for concern.
"You get one person who's asymptomatic and infected, and then all of a sudden, four or five people in that gathering are infected," said Fauci. "To me, that's the exact scenario that you're going to see on Thanksgiving."
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are soaring throughout the country, including in the Pacific Northwest. With current numbers of more than 141,000 confirmed cases and 2,600 deaths in the state of Washington and over 12 million cases and 255,000+ deaths in the U.S., the numbers are increasing at a record-breaking pace.
Possibly the last thing medical personnel who have been dealing with a very infectious virus all year need is overwhelming numbers of people sick with either COVID-19, or influenza, which is also a big concern now that cold and flu season is here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during the 2019-2020 season, influenza was associated with 38 million illnesses, 18 million medical visits, 405,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths. Influenza is not to be ignored, especially in older and medically-vulnerable populations.
Madigan’s Preventive Medicine, which has been responsible for contact tracing of exposures on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., has found that causes for transmission of COVID-19 in the on-base community are similar to the greater community where social events spread the virus.
“We're seeing transmission among small social groups; it's not necessarily at big events. It's things like dining together in restaurants or in homes, people are perhaps not distancing, not using masks,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Luke Mease, the chief of Preventive Medicine at Madigan, at a JBLM town hall.
For an already exhausted society to try to keep these illnesses from claiming more lives is daunting, but now is not the time to let the guard down.
Allergies vs. Cold vs. Flu vs. COVID-19
One way to reduce the strain on hospitals and clinics this time of year is to recognize the difference between allergies, a regular cold, the flu and COVID-19. Consult the graphic for symptoms.
Another route to both maintain health and decrease stress on the health care system is to get a flu vaccination.
According to the CDC, recent studies show the influenza vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 and 60 percent. Each year, a different vaccine must be formulated to tackle the dominant strains of influenza emerging. The high number of strains and variables in terms of how they will affect any given population deflates efficacy compared to a single illness vaccine like what is used for polio, for example.
Service Members and civilians have a variety of options to get their flu shot, to include at a regular medical appointment, through a clinic or flu drive in their unit, at one of Madigan’s flu drives or at a clinic or pharmacy off base. Watch Madigan’s official Facebook page for more information on on-base options, to include drive-thru events, by visiting: https://www.facebook.com/MadiganHealth/ or Madigan’s website at: https://madigan.tricare.mil. Watch a video with Madigan’s chief of Preventive Medicine, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Luke Mease on flu vaccine info here: https://www.facebook.com/MadiganHealth/videos/1582192658619456.
To find community options, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is sponsoring drive-thru vaccine events as well. Check www.tpchd.org/flu to find information.
Watch for the next installment of this series for a return-to-basics intervention discussion.
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