As colder weather approaches and drives more people indoors, state health officials are warily eyeing a so-called “twindemic,” in which the state simultaneously experiences its fall flu season and a widely-expected second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
“As we enter the fall season, we are also moving into the flu season. This year we are preparing for the possibility of a twin-demic,” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at the governor’s COVID-19 press briefing Monday in Trenton. “A severe flu season and a resurgence of COVID-19, which can strain health care resources.”
She made a similar warning to lawmakers earlier in the day, at the Assembly Budget hearing of the health department’s $2 billion proposed spending plan, where she said the department anticipated a surge of interest in the flu vaccine.
The COVID-19 virus is in a weeks-long lull in new positive cases, hospitalizations and spread. That’s prompted Gov. Phil Murphy to roll back a litany of restrictions that were put in place starting in March to halt the spread of the virus.
But with colder weather coming, and millions of students returning to K-12 schools or college campuses, fears that a second wave of cases might strain the state’s health care infrastructure and force old restrictions –which included a ban on public gatherings and many forms of travel, and the closure of malls, gyms, casinos, theaters and sit-down restaurants – to be reimposed have cropped up.
Indoor dining, gyms and theaters were the most recent businesses allowed to reopen, but Murphy on Monday, as well as Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the state’s communicable disease service medical director, said there wasn’t enough data to show whether or not that led to COVID-19 spikes.
The state received an additional 440,000 doses of the flu vaccine from the federal government, Persichilli told lawmakers. Meanwhile, an additional $6 million is called for in the health department’s upcoming budget – starting Oct. 1 – to bolster staffing for the upcoming demand in flu shots.
“I do not anticipate we’re going to run out of flu vaccines,” she assured.
While a flu vaccine would not “protect you against COVID-19,” Persichilli said, it can protect New Jerseyans against flu symptoms that could land them in the hospital and overburden the health care system at a time when it may be under strain from a wave of new COVID outbreaks.
“What we don’t want to see is a really bad flu season with a resurgence of COVID,” the health commissioner said on Monday afternoon. “It would stress our systems terribly, but I do have to tell you that we’re planning for it.”