Now that fall is here and winter is quickly approaching, healthcare facilities are preparing for flu season while simultaneously juggling the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, about 8% of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, with a range between 3% and 11% depending on the severity of the season. With the delta variant still ongoing, experts are bracing for a potential rebound of infection with a “twindemic” for the 2021-2022 season due to lowered natural immunity.
The Potential for a “Twindemic” 2021-2022 Flu Season
Last season, Americans practiced social distancing and wore masks, which helped prevent the spread of the flu and other common respiratory illnesses. According to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, “although each of these things is not perfect, taken together, they really are effective in preventing illness,” he said.
These prevention measures, which have been encouraged to help prevent the spread of infection since the start of the pandemic, have caused Americans to have less natural immunity, leading to the potential of a more severe flu season this year. “Because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower, putting us all at risk of increased disease this year,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.
A study conducted at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio from October 2020 through April 2021 revealed only two cases of flu were recorded during this time when pandemic prevention measures were in place. However, when restrictions and prevention measures began to relax in mid-March, viral infections returned, causing typical winter respiratory viruses to be seen during the summer months. “We didn’t really expect that we would see spreading of winter respiratory viruses in the summer. It just shows you that these viruses, which are really very contagious, will take advantage of us as we open up, gather together, take off our masks,” Dr. Schaffner said.
So, what can healthcare leaders do to keep their facilities up and running in the wake of the potential for a “twindemic?” We’re sharing a few ways your staff and facility can begin preparing for flu season.
Contingency Staffing Plan
Flu season is difficult to predict, which is why it’s important to be prepared for a severe season. The ongoing pandemic has accelerated a change within the industry for nimbler staffing models. As facilities struggle to keep up with the urgent new challenges of patient care during the pandemic, the use of temporary professionals has risen sharply. The demand for travel nurses surged in recent months, especially over the summer.
Additionally, per diem nurse staffing can also help healthcare facilities meet the demand in staffing shortages by giving them the chance to boost their reserves going into the critical fall and winter months. The use of these types of temporary nursing professionals is a long-established way for facilities to deal with seasonal spikes that come with events like flu season, and that’s likely to hold true for this year as well.
Prevent the Spread of the Flu in the Workplace
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, compliance for infection prevention improved which lead to a decrease in flu cases and other diseases. Having the appropriate signage up to encourage social distancing, mask-wearing, washing hands, and sanitizing surfaces, can help reduce infection spread. Regularly encouraging your staff, as well as visitors to your facilities, to take the necessary precautions to stay healthy, can help to reduce the spread of potential infection when preparing for flu season.
Cross-Train Your Staff
Throughout the last year and a half of the pandemic, nurses and clinicians have been stepping into different roles due to staffing challenges. To help prepare for this, spend time cross-training your staff to perform duties within their scope of care. Providing cross-training opportunities within your existing staff can help you make the most of your resources allowing you to be more flexible to meet the needs of patients. For example, if your healthcare organization requires that there be a person to take temperatures prior to entry, train a front desk member of the team to do this so you are not pulling a nurse who could fill in for someone in a medically necessary capacity.
Encourage Staff to Stay Home When Sick
With the challenge to maintain staffing levels, it is counterproductive to have someone work when they are sick, given the potential that they could spread it to the rest of your staff or patients in your facility. Have a plan in place for your workers so they know what to expect when they get sick. Encourage staff to stay home and seek medical attention if necessary.
CareerStaff is Here to Help
At CareerStaff, we specialize in helping healthcare organizations and facilities overcome workforce challenges and achieve successful nurse staffing plans. Through a variety of services ranging from travel and per diem nurse staffing to comprehensive workforce management solutions, we help by providing access to a network of healthcare professionals and the support you need, when and where you need them.