Hospital officials say flu cases starting to show up, could confuse COVID issue


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The number of COVID cases in Madison County and across North Alabama continues to look promising to hospital officials, but there’s also concern about the upcoming flu season.

Flu cases have begun showing up in area hospitals, Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said Wednesday in Madison County’s COVID-19 briefing.

“This is going to confuse the issue,” Spillers said. “Flu symptoms and COVID symptoms are very similar, and we will have to treat people who come in with symptoms of the flu as if they’re COVID until we can rule out COVID.”

Spillers encouraged people to get their flu shot this season in order to keep the healthcare system as ready as possible to deal with COVID cases.

And the healthcare system is looking good, Spillers said. There was a small spike in cases in the last two weeks that he said was probably due to the Labor Day holiday at the beginning of the month, but hospitals have been able to handle the numbers.

“The good news is it was nothing like we saw from the Fourth of July,” Spillers said. “So clearly the processes that we put in place and people paying more attention to masking and social distancing has helped.”

Testing demand is also down, Spillers said. Most people requesting tests currently are asking for a rapid test, which he cautioned is not as reliable.

“When you get a negative test with most rapid tests, there’s still a high likelihood you could be positive,” Spillers said. “They have a lot of false negatives, and people just need to be aware of that.”

He encouraged people who get a negative result on a rapid test to continue quarantining for a few more days and then get another test if they have possible COVID symptoms that haven’t gone away.

Both Spillers and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle encouraged people to continue sanitizing, social distancing and wearing masks.

“I think until there’s an effective vaccine and most people have access to it, probably one of the only effective tools we have in our tool kits are masks,” Spillers said. “Masking and separation.”

Battle said he believed in order to keep the number of infections down, people will need to continue wearing masks. But he said wearing a mask is a small price to pay to keep the population safe, even if it means people spend up to a year wearing a mask in public.

“I don’t like them,” Battle said. “They’re hot. They’re stuffy, and everybody knows that and everybody goes through it. But we need to recognize that this is what we’re doing to keep people safe. It’s working. Let’s make sure it stays working.”

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