Missouri’s hospitals, health department, and the state testing lab are bracing for more COVID-19 cases in the midst of flu season, but they are hoping it’s more of a confluence than a collision.

State Health Labs Director Bill Whitmar in early September told a symposium at Westminster College that fall and winter are a tough time for respiratory diseases and a tough time for health care providers.

“The symptoms are going to be essentially the same; how does a clinician know whether they have flu or COVID-19? We anticipate that this will be a horrible, horrible fall and winter,” Whitmar said.

Whitmar says his labs are developing a combined test for COVID-19 and influenza A and B to save time.

In the meantime, the focus is on getting more people immunized from the flu to keep them out of the hospital, as hospitals in various parts of the state continue to reach record levels of COVID-19 patients.

To ensure our state has the capacity to care for COVID-19 patients, we need to do whatever we can to prevent strain on our health care system and keep Missourians healthy,” said Williams. “Flu vaccines are therefore important to the COVID-19 fight. Preventing flu means fewer unnecessary medical visits and hospitalizations. Preventing flu also reduces disruptions to our daily lives – at home, at work, at school.”

The Missouri Hospital Association began tracking flu-like symptoms last week, to plan for its impact on hospital capacity.

Spokesman Dave Dillon said, “With flu, people can get pneumonia and need to be on a ventilator and those are the same kinds of assets and conditions that we worry about with COVID.”

“In most cases, influenza does not end up requiring that kind of care, and it certainly doesn’t if the vaccine is well-matched and we get a significant kind of herd immunity for it. That’s what we’re hoping for,” Dillon told Missourinet.