Pipe Dream spoke with Richard Moose, medical director of Binghamton University’s Decker Student Health Services Center, and Lisa Loar, director of health and counseling, to discuss what flu season will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Oct. 18, there have been 2,788 positive test cases in total in Broome County and 192 positive test results in total reported by BU.
Pipe Dream: With COVID-19 already present, what will the impact be of this upcoming flu season?
Richard Moose: It will increase the numbers of students who have COVID-19 like symptoms and the numbers which need a [COVID-19] test and flu test.
PD: What kind of illness is the flu and does it look similar to COVID-19? How can we differentiate between flu and COVID-19 symptoms?
RM: The only way to tell the difference between COVID-19 and influenza is to do a test. Each has significant overlap in symptoms. Per the [Centers For Disease Control and Prevention] (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting [and] diarrhea. Per the CDC, symptoms of influenza include: fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches [and] fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
PD: How can you contract the flu, and how can you contract COVID-19?
RM: The main way both viruses are spread is through inhaling the respiratory droplets of an infected person. This is why wearing a mask is so important to protect other people. Masks help to decrease the aerosolization of the virus. There is some evidence both viruses may spread by contact with contaminated objects, such as touching a doorknob then rubbing your eyes, which is why hand hygiene is so important. However, this is not the primary mode of transmission.
PD: How effective is the flu shot?
RM: The flu vaccine is very effective at helping to prevent complications of the flu and shortening the duration of the illness. It also helps to prevent influenza from occurring.
PD: How can people get the flu shot safely in order to avoid COVID-19?
RM: By getting a flu shot at sites that are following good COVID-19 hygiene measures, such as social distancing and enforcement of the use of masks.
PD: Will COVID-19 affect the number of students that Decker Student Health Services Center can give flu shots to? Will this affect the number of students Decker Student Health Services Center can treat?
Lisa Loar: We do not anticipate COVID-19 affecting the number of students we can serve. The modality of treatment may differ slightly as we now begin all health services through telehealth, either with a phone call or using Doxy.me, a medically based virtual platform where the provider and student can see one another. In terms of the vaccine, we purchased 1,500 doses this year, which is on par with recent years. We anticipate delivering all of our doses.
PD: Can you also provide some information that students should know about getting a flu shot from Decker Student Health Services Center?
LL: As the new director of health and counseling, I’m excited to answer this question because I think we have come up with a creative way to deliver as many doses as possible this year. We are partnering with the Office of Emergency Management and School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to do what is called a Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise on campus. PODs are a way to mass deliver vaccinations or other medicines to a large population.
PD: When are students able to get a flu shot with Decker?
LL: The POD will be Oct. 20–22 from 10 a.m.–7 p.m. each day [located at the Anderson Center in the Fine Arts Building].
PD: Do students need to register differently this year for their flu shot than in the past due to COVID-19?
LL: Students just need to show up during the operational hours of the POD. They should make sure to bring their student ID, and anyone under the age of 18 will also need to bring a signed parental consent form. If we have doses of the vaccine still available after the POD, students will be able to make an appointment through [Decker Student Health Services Center] to get their flu vaccine.