COVID has pushed Hawaii’s medical workers to the brink. Flu season now brings new worries


WAILUKU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Medical professionals are worried about a “twindemic” — a one-two punch from the ongoing COVID surge mixed with the upcoming flu season.

Healthcare workers say it could further stress Hawaii’s fragile healthcare industry.

“The healthcare system here in Hawaii is stretched pretty thin with the COVID surge we’re having now. So, every additional hospitalized patient you add in, and if that’s for flu, that puts further strain on a system that’s already under a lot of strain,” said Chief Medical Director of Maui Health Dr. Michael Shea.

Flu season normally begins in the fall and lasts through the winter. Last year was the mildest flu season on record.

Mauliola Pharmacy Pharmacist Dr. Cory Lehano says that’s because most people were staying at home.

“Last year, we dispensed one influenza medication for the entire year. So that just goes to show how much the social distancing aspect played a role in curbing and preventing influenza,” Dr. Lehano said.

Dr. Lehano predicts a much busier flu season this year as more people mingle and become lax on social distancing and mask mandates.

“Now with people headed back to work, schools opening, interactions between students and parents, that definitely may cause an influx,” said Dr. Lehano.

On Tuesday, there were 26 positive COVID cases at Maui Memorial Medical Center, six in the Intensive Care Unit and one on a ventilator. Hospital officials say that’s a reduction from last week.

Dr. Shea is optimistic and hopes to see a mild flu season again this year.

“Because the flu is less contagious than COVID, things like masking and hand washing really can work,” he said. “With kids back at school, certainly there’s a little more risk than when we were all shut down last year … I think we can still prevent it.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no harm taking the flu shot and COVID booster at once.

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