After a sharp increase in flu activity in October and November, flu activity has declined in recent weeks even as infections from COVID-19 have began trending upward.
Ballad Health’s Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said the region is still seeing a lot of flu and COVID-19 circulating, and said they anticipate an increase in activity following Christmas and New Year’s gatherings. Fortunately, another respiratory illness that made headlines in recent months because of an unusually bad season, respiratory syncicial virus (RSV), appears to have peaked.
“We’ve seen an increase in COVID post-Thanksgiving, which we expected,” Swift said. “Actually our predictions are that it’ll continue to climb for the next little bit as we celebrate another holiday and go into the Christmas season. Flu, we are sustaining very actively.
“Numbers have come down a little from the Thanksgiving week, but we’re still at a very high regional level of activity and spread with flu,” Swift continued. “RSV, it seems to have peaked and be on its way down. Here and across the nation it seems like our RSV numbers are coming down a little bit and the numbers are not nearly as high as they were a few weeks ago.”
As of Friday, Ballad was treating 127 people who were hospitalized with COVID-19, 16 of whom were in intensive care. That’s up slightly from last week’s census of 115 with 12 in the ICU, but is up pretty significantly from the beginning of the month when Ballad reported an inpatient census of 82.
“We do think that the greater demand in the coming weeks will be from COVID,” Swift said. “We keep a very close eye on all the numbers daily, and flu right now, I say it’s coming down but it’s still very high.”
Swift said she’s hopeful that flu has peaked, but said she’s “not going to feel really comfortable about that until I see numbers probably after the first of the year.” Swift said this flu season has been one of the worst the region has seen in seven years or so.
“Every flu season is unpredictable, and so we don’t know if we’ve truly peaked for our number of flu cases and will continue to slowly decline, or if we could potentially have another peak as we go into the Christmas holiday and New Year,” Swift said. “We don’t know yet, but we’re keeping a close eye on it.”
Dr. David deRoos, a primary care provider with Ballad Health Medical Associates, stressed that it’s not too late to get vaccinated against either the flu or COVID-19. deRoos said protecting yourself by getting vaccinated or wearing a mask is important because “you can’t just stop living life.”
“You’re going to be around people, family and friends,” deRoos said. “Being smart about, maybe limiting your overall contacts is smart, it’s not a dumb thing to wear a mask around people.
“The biggest thing I think is it’s definitely not too late to get vaccinated,” he continued, adding that he’s “definitely recommending the vaccine to everyone.”
deRoos noted that the vaccine has been effective this year against the predominant flu strain, and said it’s safe to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time. deRoos also expressed dismay at the prevalence of vaccine-related misinformation that continues to circulate.
“There are many, many misconceptions about vaccines that are unfortunately still out and about, and every single day I see someone who has something new that they’ve heard or been told that’s simply not true,” deRoos said.
Jonathan Roberts is a reporter and photographer for the Johnson City Press covering Health Care, Johnson City and Jonesborough. He is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and has been with the Press since 2019.