Texas, The Woodlands-area experts advise planning for winter flu season during COVID-19

Image description
Health officials are preparing for a seasonal wave of influenza they said could compound public health and health care system capacity concerns this year.

Dr. Jennifer Shuford, infectious disease medical officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said that while flu season typically peaks between December and March, the timing and severity of the flu’s spread every year is uncertain.

“Getting the flu shot is the single most important thing that a person can do to prevent themselves from getting the flu or from severe flu and its complications,” she said.

Shuford said that while DSHS works every year to share messaging about flu preparedness and prevention, efforts to inform Texans about flu shots and recommended precautions have ramped up ahead of this fall. And in addition to communications from the state organization, Shuford also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing flu vaccines for residents of all ages this year in addition to the department’s ongoing Texas Vaccines for Children Program.

Shuford said the state department will monitor Texas hospital capacity over the coming months. She said that while COVID-19 hospitalizations throughout Texas decreased in September, increases during the fall and winter may again lead to capacity issues throughout the state.


“We don’t feel like we’re out of the woods,” Shuford said. “We feel like our health care system is safe at this moment in time, but that any addition of flu in our communities or even COVID-19 in our communities could start to impact and stress our healthcare system.”

In Montgomery County, general hospital bed usage has remained at or below 1,000 since early September—below the county’s operational capacity of 1,275 beds and surge capacity of 1,529 beds, according to data from the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council. Misti Willingham, public information officer for the Montgomery County Hospital District, said county health officials typically see a rise in hospitalizations due to the flu and anticipate that potential need for beds as well as increased testing in the community this year.

“We are hopeful the CDC guidelines regarding social distancing, mask-wearing, hand hygiene and surface disinfection will lead to fewer people contracting the seasonal flu as well as COVID-19. However, the signs and symptoms are very similar in presentation. Testing is the only way to know for sure,” Willingham said in an email.

Dr. Sam Rolon, a Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group Creekside Family Medicine physician in The Woodlands, also said that residents following CDC-recommended guidelines related to COVID-19 could provide an additional protection against the spread of the flu and related illnesses this year.

“Patients that might just have a cough and shortness of breath from allergies or asthma, they might get screened for COVID and they probably should be,” Rolon said. “They might get screened for flu this year and they probably should be.”

Local and state officials advise that anyone ages 6 months or older get their flu shots in October, unless they have a confirmed medical reason not to. Willingham said the county hospital district offers flu vaccinations for uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid-recipient county residents.

“We might still have a very severe flu season,” Shuford said. “It is still very important for people to get their flu shots for this flu season.”
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2019 as a reporter for The Woodlands area and began working as Austin's City Hall reporter in April 2021.


MOST RECENT

The University of St. Thomas is a private Catholic college in Houston. It also has a microcampus in downtown Conroe. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of St. Thomas offering free tuition to first 500 students who apply

The online degrees are in the following fields: cybersecurity, network technology, electronic technology, general business, and alcohol and drug dependency counseling.

Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 has begun construction on the first of three phases for its new 43-acre, state-of-the-art campus located in Spring, according to a May 7 news release. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 begins construction on new 43-acre campus

The campus will house ESD No. 11's new ambulance service, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 4 when the district's contract with current service provider, Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, expires.

FM 2978 has been under construction since 2018.
(Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Work on FM 2978 continues with expected completion date this summer

The project, begun in 2018, is expected to wrap in the second quarter of 2021.

Tomball Star Academy will celebrate its senior class May 27 with a graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. at the Magnolia Event Center, according to district information. Students will graduate virtually from LSC-Tomball on May 13, according to LSCS information. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
'They’ve created the legacy:' Inaugural class to graduate May 27 from Tomball ISD's early college high school program

The inaugural class of 95 students has been instrumental in paving the way for the students yet to finish the program, said Kelly Marchiando, the principal of Tomball Star Academy since January.

The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a significant shortage of nurses by 2032. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Why Texas faces a growing nursing shortage and what can be done to address it

In 2018, the state health department estimated about 11% of the demand for nurses was not able to be met, and that number is expected to rise to 16.3% by 2032.

Photos in the home of Barbara and the late Don Gebert show the couple and other family members over their decades together. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
Don Gebert, founder of Interfaith of The Woodlands, remembered in The Woodlands

A celebration of life service for Don Gebert will be held June 12 at Lord of Life Lutheran Church.

Two new stores came to The Woodlands Mall in April. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Two new stores open in The Woodlands Mall through April

Casper and TravisMatthew joined the mall's offerings April 9 and April 23 respectively.

The Woodlands celebrates Bike Month in May. (Courtesy Bike The Woodlands Coalition)
Ride a bike, see a show, observe Memorial Day: 12 events and activities in The Woodlands area in May and June

See events and activities happening in The Woodlands area in early summer, including a show at the Pavilion and Memorial day observances.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

(Courtesy Third Coast Organic Foods)
Third Coast Organic Foods launches e-commerce business

The business sells sugar-free organic wine vinaigrette salad dressings.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.