Medical experts: Flu shot, standardized testing could make or break second wave

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Seven months down, and who knows how many more to go? Medical experts say we’ve come a long way, but we’re not getting rid of coronavirus unless we step our game up to the next level.

“We are not where we want to be. We are not where we should be,” says Heather Pierce, Senior Director for Science Policy for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Pierce says the AAMC called on lawmakers to make a national COVID-19 standard soon, before the winter months bring extra complications.

“This virus does not respect state borders, and so whether someone is tested, whether they are subject to requirements about restrictions on social distancing or mask-wearing really should not depend on where someone is living,” she explains in a Zoom call with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Pierce says she believes more screening and surveillance tests are needed to bring the U.S. up to the level of progress needed to be proactive and not constantly reactive to the pandemic.

“Screening tests are how we reopen safely and confidently, and so that means testing large numbers of people who are not symptomatic and don’t necessarily think they have been exposed so we can see where the virus is moving when we don’t know where it is yet,” she explains.

“We need to be addressing this in the same way, using the same criteria for testing, using the same way of reporting outcomes for testing, and then we need to be investing in technology and manufacturing so that we have more tests, we have better tests, we have faster tests,” she goes on to say.

Albany Medical Center is a member of the AAMC. Doctors there and their regional partners confirmed at a press conference Wednesday the COVID positive rate is up to 1.5 percent again. That’s especially worrying as we enter flu season.

“Flu seasons are quite unpredictable. You know some of the measures that have been put in place may help us attenuate the flu season. All of us are wearing masks today. We are sitting far apart,” says Dr. David Liebers, Chief Medical Officer at Ellis Medicine.

Dr. Liebers says although areas like Australia and South America show hopeful signs the flu season may show low numbers, now is not the time to take chances.

“The transmission of COVID is similar. I don’t think it’s easy for us to say that we don’t have a great concern,” he says.

Liebers says the area hospital partners will mandate all 35,000 plus local staff get their flu shots and encourage community members to do the same. It could mean the difference as they deal with a second wave.

“In order to conserve the resources we are going to need, and particularly human resources and the rest as well, to combat what we predict to be an increase in COVID-19 patients,” he says.

“As hospital beds are filling with COVID patients, we need to both be able to distinguish COVID patients from flu patients and try to keep our utilization of healthcare services down as much as possible,” says Pierce.

They also add we should rely on these vaccines we do have. Even though all the local medical partners applied to issue COVID vaccines when they come, there’s still a long list of complications.

“There are issues related to storage, there’s issues related to distribution, there’s issues related to consent, the safety profile of it, the president order in which it’s going to be delivered. There’s a lot of logistics, there’s a lot of ethical considerations,” explains Albany Med CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna.

“Widespread access to vaccines is many months in our future, so what we need to do is really take these public health measures that we know work very seriously,” says Pierce.

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