Q&A with a doctor: What you need to know about cold and flu season in a pandemic

Cold and flu season is around the corner, and local public health workers are preparing for an onslaught of people presenting to local clinics and hospitals with symptoms.

Dr. Joe Lee oversees the COVID-19 testing clinic in Waterloo and spoke to CBC's The Morning Edition

Currently there are four testing sites in Waterloo region. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Cold and flu season is around the corner, and local public health workers are preparing for an onslaught of people presenting to local clinics and hospitals with symptoms.

This year, though, the flu season is overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic and an anticipated second-wave of the virus.

Dr. Joe Lee oversees the COVID-19 testing clinic in Waterloo.

He says new COVID-19 testing sites are being considered for the fall.

Lee spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition. The following is that conversation, edited for length and clarity. 

Craig Norris: What are your top concerns about this fall and winter?

Dr. Joe Lee: We're certainly worried about this second wave of COVID-19, and you're right when you say in the fall/winter is a typical time for colds and flus, which if we start to get other viruses in, it's going to confuse people. Healthcare providers and the public certainly will want to know what's going on.

Craig Norris: I'm thinking schools specifically here, if a child or a student has a sniffle, they immediately want to be tested or they'll have to stay home. Is there any way, Dr. Lee, to tell the difference between COVID, a cold, the flu or even allergies?

Dr. Joe Lee: Certainly allergies are somewhat easier because usually people have besides a runny nose, they have sneezing and itchy eyes. It is fairly typical that most people have had them before and they're familiar symptoms and they often go on as opposed to feeling acutely unwell with a cold or flu or COVID-19.

Although people have kids who may not have experienced allergies before, it could be confusing for sure. And even though there are distinct typical symptoms of each illness, there is a lot of overlap and so for sure there can be a lot of confusion, and you're right to say that we're going to have to be prepared at least to do a lot of testing this fall for kids and and everybody really I think.

Craig Norris: Do we have a sense yet of how any of this will impact people being able to get their flu shots?

Dr. Joe Lee: Well, we've had some town halls I know locally, and I know at a provincial level there's been a lot of talk about flu shots and how to get them properly distributed because we don't want giant lineups of people necessarily.

And so I think there's more thought and preparation being done to put through a lot of appointments or maybe online booking.

I know some offices are talking about even having drive-thru or parking lot vaccinations for flu shots. But it is going to be a little more tricky this fall.

Craig Norris: And as you said, there's going to be an increase in the demand for tests this fall. Talk a bit about what our capacity looks like right now. Should people be prepared to wait longer for the tests or maybe even longer for results?

Dr. Joe Lee: Well, I hope not. We've been talking about the need to have increased capacity here regionally as well as at a provincial level. And there have been some plans, there probably will be some changes in some of the hospital locations just because they need some of the current spaces to revert back to other activities that are kind of normal for the hospitals.

I know there are a few sites being considered as far as the new sites. The place on Westmount Road — it's going to remain. That's going to be a stable place not just for testing but also for assessments for people who might be again confused, but maybe not ill enough to wind up in the emergency room.

And so I think with the increased sites, I understand that there's a fair bit of capacity with regards to the labs and the actual swabs, which were a problem at the beginning. And so I am hopeful that we'll be in relatively good shape into the fall. Certainly being prepared for the worst. Hoping for the best.

Craig Norris: We know that some students and educators will be back in the classroom this fall. What advice Dr. Lee would you give them to best protect themselves?

Dr. Joe Lee: I think what we've learned from a lot of places is that the public health measures that have been touted pretty well a lot from the beginning are actually very true and things that have even been said before about you know staying home if you're sick and washing your hands and socially distancing and so on. I mean those are true. And this time we really mean it.

And so I think we've gotten to a good spot here regionally and in the province because of the hard work of a lot of people trying to follow the guidelines and having a lot of preparedness and to just be vigilant because there's no reason, if we let our guard down, that we couldn't have a really big second wave.

And I think one of the really important mitigating factors is how we respond as a community to the whole situation. And kudos for the first time around. I think we mitigated from having a lot of things that could have been much worse.


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