Double threat

Staying healthy in a new flu season.
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Courtesy iStock

A year ago, Michigan was deep in the grip of a surge in COVID-19 cases. Hospitals were full of patients — and with vaccines in their early phases, there wasn’t much to do but stay masked and wait.

This year is different, but still dangerous. Health experts in West Michigan point out that, as the country’s adherence to masking and distancing and other COVID-19 precautions start to fade, this winter will likely see a resurgence of the flu. Coupled with the lingering threat of the coronavirus, that constitutes a double threat.

And Michiganders should be careful.

“I think this winter, in my own personal opinion, is a lot more dangerous than last winter,” said Mary Wisinski, a nurse and immunizations supervisor with the Kent County Health Department. She said it’s impossible to know what this flu season will look like.

But by the time you read this, flu season almost certainly will have proved more dangerous than last year’s.

Wisinski’s fears have been echoed by public health officials nationwide, who still are urging Americans to get vaccinated — if not to protect themselves, then to protect people around them. Wisinski said there’s no “contra-indication” for coronavirus vaccines and for flu shots, meaning Americans can get them on the same day if they’d like.

The best practices for this winter, local health experts say, are the same as they’ve always been. But one more time with feeling: Keep your distance from other people if you can and keep wearing a mask when you’re around them — especially if it’s a big group. Stay home if you’re feeling unwell. And it even helps to practice the most mundane safety precautions, like coughing into your elbow.

Erin McNeely is an internal medicine physician with Spectrum Health. She points to mask use in other cultures that was the norm long before the coronavirus struck — something that, if it became more normal here, could save countless patients from infection and serious danger.

It’s hard to know what happens next with the virus — partly because of the unpredictable nature of COVID mutations and spikes, but also because the vaccine rollout for young children was still in its infancy this fall.

“I can envision a future where … we will be able to do a lot of the things that we previously enjoyed, but I also think this is a wakeup call for our world on how quickly a virus can change our lives,” Wisinski said.

This story can be found in the January/February 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here

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