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Hospital resources a concern as medical professionals look ahead to flu season amid COVID-19

With decreasing ICU bed availability in Arizona, medical professionals are concerned about what flu season could look like amid COVID-19.

ARIZONA, USA — As the world has come to learn over the past several months, COVID-19 is not going to go away overnight as there isn’t a cure or a vaccine for the virus right now. 

As doctors look toward the future, concerns are being raised about what happens when cold and flu season comes around.

“There’s a lot of risk factors that we look at, that we know of for the coronavirus that also intersects with influenza,” Dr. Matthew Heinz, a Tucson hospital physician, said.

Heinz works overnights at a Tucson hospital. While he’s hopeful things like social distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing will help curtail the flu, he is concerned that those who are most at risk for a serious COVID-19 infection, are also most at risk for a serious case of the flu.

“I suspect we’re going to have some pretty darn sick people that are coinfected,” Heinz said.

Valley infectious disease Dr. Kevin Stephan adds while most people who are infected with COVID-19 or the flu do not need intensive care, those that do, need the same resources: ICU beds and ventilators.

“If you do, if you’re that one person, and there’s no ventilators available that’s basically a death sentence,” Stephan said.

Arizona ICUs for the past several weeks have had fewer and fewer beds available. According to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, about half of the available ventilators in Arizona are in use right now. It’s a statistic that’s been trending up over the past couple of months.

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“We’re at a breaking point right now,” Will Humble, director of the Arizona Public Health Association, said.

Humble points to data from the University of Arizona showing hospital beds in the state are normally the most available in June and July. Something that’s helped hospitals out as COVID-19 cases spiked.

“As we move into August in the fall we lose that safety margin because these are months where we typically see an increase in hospitalizations,” Humble said.

Humble said he wants to see testing improve so other efforts like contact tracing can help mitigate COVID-19 before the fall and winter comes.

RELATED: Coronavirus in Arizona: Where can I get tested for COVID-19?

“So many other aspects of this response depend on robust testing and quick turnarounds,” Humble said.