Flu season may cause capacity issues at Colorado hospitals already struggling

Flu sick
Posted at 5:34 PM, Sep 15, 2021

DENVER — For this upcoming influenza season, the need for a flu shot may be the most dire it's even been.

The flu vaccine will have not only be significant for the public dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for struggling hospitals across Colorado trying to keep up with an influx of patients.

"ERs are extremely busy and we are really at capacity already, especially with the COVID levels we have," said Eric Hill, emergency medicine physician and medical director of the Medical Center of Aurora. "If you have a subsequent flu pandemic on top of that, that could put things into really a crisis issue."

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, more than 85% of the state's ICU beds are occupied with nearly 900 patients experiencing complications with COVID-19.

That's why the flu season is real concern compared to last year, according to Hill. There's more travel, social interaction and less distancing heading into the flu season.

"Now, the economy is in a much different place, the country is in a much different place," Hill said. "We are going to see much more interaction. Masking has become a political hot topic item, so people are sort of resistant to masking even in kind of tight quarters."

Parents like Nicole Thrasher have been thinking about the possible setbacks for a while.

"The big concern is just keeping everybody healthy, keeping my kids healthy, keeping them in school," Thrasher said.

The best way to keep healthy is to get the flu vaccine, according to health experts, which will help individuals and hospitals.

"As an ICU nurse, yeah man, I don't want to keep putting people on vent and ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation], so if I could do my part to decrease that, then that's what I'm going to do," Mike Fisk said.

For those who choose to get the flu vaccine, Hill said it's safe to get both the flu and COVID-19 shot at the same time but recommends getting them in different arms.

"I recommend it for kids. I recommend it for really anybody to get that because getting the flu is really a miserable illness. It definitely takes you out and it also looks, in many ways, like COVID," Hill said.

Bottom line: Hospital capacity is a concern, and it may be even a bigger one in the midst of flu season. Hill said anyone who goes to the ER should prepare for a long wait.