Less masking may mean more flu this season and a ‘twindemic’

As the Cincinnati region's roughly 500 intensive care beds once again are 100% full, Cincinnati-area health care officials said Wednesday the region could face a "twindemic" of flu and COVID-19 cases this fall and winter.

The concern comes UC Health has already seen some influenza cases as the season gets underway, said Dr. Richard Lofgren, the health system's president and chief executive officer, at Hamilton County's periodic pandemic briefing.

Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman sounded the alarm once more about the state of the region's hospitals, which are packed with COVID-19 cases. Hamilton County, and much of the region, is far above the federal measure for the spread of the virus. "We should use this as a constant reminder that COVID is in our community, and we are recommending caution when you go our and about," he said.

More: Masking curbs COVID-19 in school, study shows

More: Questions answered about kids and COVID-19 vaccines

The flu season has arrived, and Lofgren said the hospitals already are seeing flu patients, although guessing the severity of a season is an annual exercise. Last year, the first winter with the novel coronavirus sweeping the nation, masking and social distancing crushed the flu virus barely more than 100 hospitalizations statewide. The year before, more than 11,000 people needed hospital care for flu. 

Dr. Richard Lofgren, UC Health president and CEO, addresses the group gathered to take part in the groundbreaking for the new University of Cincinnati Medical Center emergency department and a surgical tower on Sept. 21, 2021.

Some researchers in France have warned of an "immunity debt" as contagion restrictions to exposure to viruses have lifted. Lofgren said, "There is a real concern of a 'twindemic,' if you will," although he noted that flu intensity is tough to predict in normal years. 

Kesterman said he expects more flu this year because fewer people are wearing masks in public. The unprecedented low season last year "is just one more piece of evidence that masks did a great job at slowing infection. It's not 100%. ... Most schools are coming around. Most schools have masks, that should help us some."

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