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 January 2019 and is a reporter for The Woodlands edition.


Montgomery County COVID-19 updates
Active COVID-19 cases double in Montgomery County since Nov. 17

Since Monday, active cases countywide have risen 13.1%, while four more deaths have been reported.

A project to widen Gosling Road across Spring Creek will go out to bid in early 2021. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
2 road projects to watch in The Woodlands area: FM 2978, Gosling Road bridge

Here's the latest on progress with construction on FM 2978, and when to expect road work on Gosling Road bridge.

(Courtesy Howard Hughes Corp.)
The Lane at Waterway announces mid-December opening

The new multifamily project offers 163 new residences in apartments and townhomes.

Doug Hooten was announced as the first executive director of Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 on Dec. 3. (Courtesy Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 hires first executive director

Doug Hooten has 35 years of experience in EMS, according to a Dec. 3 press release.

Baja Sur opened Dec. 1 in Creekside Park West. (Courtesy Baja Sur)
Baja Sur serves up fresh Tex-Mex cuisine in Creekside Park West

Baja Sur opened Dec. 1 in Creekside Park West.

The Woodlands Township board of directors met at the township building Dec. 2. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
COVID-19 patients in more than 15% of Montgomery County hospital beds; free testing seeing demand in The Woodlands

The percentage of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds in Montgomery County was more than 15% in early December.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Dec. 2 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has allotted 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to the state of Texas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
First allotment of COVID-19 vaccinations expected to arrive in Texas in mid-December

About 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been allotted to the state of Texas and will arrive the week of Dec. 14.

The East Montgomery County Industrial Park off Gene Campbell Road will welcome the Lowe's Distribution Center in July. (Courtesy East Montgomery County Improvement District)
Lowe's to bring 200 jobs to Montgomery County and more Houston-area news

Read the latest Houston-area business and community news.

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County Appraisal District launches new 'Appraiser Field Operations Map' tool

Harris County has launched a tool to allow homeowners to identify appraisal activity in their neighborhood.

A new coronavirus testing site is coming to The Woodlands on Dec. 14. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Second free mobile coronavirus testing clinic coming to The Woodlands on Dec. 14

The free clinic from Curative will be available until Jan. 31, 2021.

The letter came a week after Longoria was virtually sworn into the office by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Nov. 18. (Screenshot via Zoom)
Harris County scrambles to make creation of Elections Administrator Office lawful after Attorney General's letter identifies deficiencies

Harris County is working to make right the appointment of Isabel Longoria as the county's first-ever elections administrator after County Attorney Vince Ryan received a letter Nov. 25 from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stating that the county did not follow the proper appointment process.