coronavirus in connecticut

Health Care Systems Check In: Talking Low Flu Numbers & Emergency Departments

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The flu season is underway and yet the state totals are trending below normal for this time of the year.

This time last year, Connecticut's Department of Public Health reported more than 278 hospitalizations, five deaths, and 4.83% of the patients coming in had a flu-like illness. This year, DPH has just 10 hospitalizations, one death and 1.02% of the patients coming in have a flu-like illness.

New health measures like regularly washing hands, wearing a mask, avoiding travel, and keeping your distance are all contributing factors for why flu numbers remain low, according to some doctors.

"Hopefully that's influencing flu activity and decreasing it," said David Banach, an epidemiologist at UConn Health. "I think there could be a correlation between the two but we're still trying to figure that out."

Doctors say people shouldn't ignore health issues for fear of being treated at hospitals or other medical facilities during the pandemic.

Banach also mentioned that it's still early in the flu season and there could be a rise as we head into the spring.

"We always have to be cautious with the flu, sometimes we see upticks later in the flu season despite being low-levels of activity in the earlier months," Banach said. "The flu vaccine is an added layer of infection prevention that can really help keep the flu at bay."

Health care systems are working to reassure potential patients who need to come into the emergency department, too. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been some concern about catching COVID-19 while inside the hospital.

Dr. Donald Higgins told NBC Connecticut that every minute was crucial after he recently suffered a stroke believed to be brought on by COVID-19.

"You and I would not be having this conversation right now, I mean my life as I know it would've been over," said Higgins. "The medical staff immediately put me in a stroke protocol which really at least saved my functional life."

Dr. Daniyal Asad and a team of medical staff at UConn Health helped Higgins and said patient safety is key, especially during COVID-19.

"As soon as the patient comes in, we ensure that the exposure of the patient as well as the exposure of the staff taking care of the patient is minimal," said Asad.

Health care systems said they are doubling down on their safety protocols like ensuring there's enough PPE for staff and setting up COVID-19 wards to separate patients inside of their facilities.

"We work to ensure we have adequate resources including testing, timely testing," said Dr. Syed Hussain, chief medical officer at Trinity Health. "Those individuals who seek to get care but don't necessarily need the emergency department have been accessing our telehealth services."

Both UConn Health and Trinity Health want the public to remember that as soon as you develop pain, you should seek medical attention.

"It is important that within a particular time frame that you seek help as quickly as possible," said Asad.

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