Winter 2020: Don’t get caught out in the cold
While the heat of the summer and the foliage-filled days of fall seem a world away, it is already time to think about winter. As you know, the cold winter days usher in the annual flu season which places an expected level of strain on health services, the elderly, and those living with underlying health conditions. Irrespective of the yearly flu vaccination scheme, this winter needs you to be more prepared and extra vigilant than usual.
As society moves its way through the first wave of coronavirus, it is sensible to think about a second wave of this disease emerging at the same time as the yearly flu. In combination, these two respiratory diseases could wreak havoc on healthcare systems and their ability to keep you and your loved ones well in times of emergency during the approaching winter months.
Naturally, governments across the globe are currently in a direct firefight with the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and we have all been placed in lockdown to avoid community-based transmission. As lockdown regulations lighten, and as we begin to emerge from our isolation and return to normality, this is not the time for jubilation it is the time for preparation.
We must use the time before the fall and winter wisely to plan for a possible second wave of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu combined. We must plan as society is still immunologically naïve, we may not have an effective vaccine ready for the winter, and we cannot assume that extra winter capacity will be available for everyone who needs it in our hospitals – especially in intensive care units.
We can take a lesson from history about the need to plan now for the coming fall and winter months ahead. While the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 emerged in the spring, it came back in a more lethal, and mutated form, in the fall of that year which killed many more than the first wave itself. While we must be cautious about drawing conclusions from the comparison of the Spanish flu and coronavirus, we know that winter makes it more likely that mortality levels will increase from flu viruses – particularly new ones.
For this reason, it is time to make sure that you have all the necessary essentials to keep you and your family safe for the winter ahead. It is time to check your stores, to stock up on essential foods, medicines, and sanitizer supplies, masks and gloves, and home cleaning supplies. You must think ahead for a winter that could mean a return to full lockdown in a time of increased death, darkness, and snow. As ever, it is time to plan for the worst and to hope for the best. Who knows what will happen as the days slowly roll on, but a ‘normal’ Thanksgiving and Christmas this year may require you to plan now in order to keep one step ahead of this invisible enemy.
Don’t get caught out in the cold this winter – think, plan, and act sooner rather than later.
Dr. Douglas Alexander Richards, Independent Global Public Health Specialist.