‘We don’t know what January will bring’ — Loudoun Co. health director urges caution against flu, colds, COVID

Declining numbers of new recorded flu cases might suggest the flu season has peaked, but the health director in Loudoun County, Virginia, wants people to remain vigilant and take precautions against all the viruses currently circulating.

Seasonal influenza activity remains high but is declining in most areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – but Health Director Dr. David Goodfriend isn’t celebrating yet.

CDC map of latest flu data for week ending Dec. 17, 2022. (Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

“It’s a challenge during the holiday season to really track these numbers well, because when there’s a lot of people that are traveling, some people may test more, some people may test less,” Goodfriend said.

“We’re really going to get a sense once everyone comes back from their Christmas and New Year’s travels and vacations, and kids start coming back into school.” The first and second weeks of January are when it’ll be clear “whether we’re going to have the second surge of flu and COVID,” he said.

Goodfriend emphasized that everyone who has not gotten a flu shot or an updated COVID-19 booster needs to do so.

“We’re ‘wait and see’ in terms of numbers, but not ‘wait and see’ in terms of protection,” he said. “So, definitely, if people have not gotten their flu shot, it’s not at all too late to get your flu shot. The flu season typically goes into March.”

To avoid being part of a problem that could strain the resources of area hospitals, emergency departments and community urgent care centers, Goodfriend recommended several best practices that helped keep flu and other ailment numbers low while the pandemic persisted: Wash your hands regularly; cover your mouth with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; avoid time around others who are looking sick, and if you’re sick, stay home.

“No one is so important that they need to go to work, go visit friends or go shopping when they’re sick,” Goodfriend said. “Because all you’re doing is passing your infection on to others.”

If you’re in a high-risk category for severe infection, he said, it is also particularly important to keep distance from others, minimize the crowds you’re involved in and consider wearing a mask.

“We’re getting into New Year’s Eve, and people are going to New Year’s Eve parties coming off of Christmas parties,” he said. “Remember there is a lot of virus going around, and those [parties] are great opportunities for you to catch the virus, but also potentially for you to pass it on to someone who’s going to have a much harder time fighting it off.”

Goodfriend also said to know when to seek care. He said relatively young and healthy people with no underlying medical conditions, who just have some respiratory symptoms, can likely take care of themselves at home with over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms.

“If you’re medically fragile, if you have underlying medical conditions, if you’ve been cautioned by your doctor, that if you do get sick, it might progress to something quickly, then don’t wait,” he said. “You err on the side of caution. Get medical care through your doctor, an urgent care, or, if needed, an emergency department. We don’t want anyone to have a bad outcome because they waited.”

Emphasizing the need for people to do everything they can to stay healthy, Goodfriend repeated the call for vaccinations and mitigation strategies to get through this winter.

“This is probably going to be a tough winter. We don’t know yet. We don’t know what January will bring us,” Goodfriend said. “But everything is pointing to a continued tough year for respiratory infections this winter.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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