WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Calling it an "unusual" start to the flu season, the health director of Palm Beach County on Tuesday urged residents to get a flu shot right away as our community continues to see cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Alina Alonso told county commissioners that flu season starts in October, and Palm Beach County has already seen cases of both influenza A and B.
"That's unusual. We usually see influenza B a little bit later, more towards December, January, February. But it's already out," Alonso said.
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The doctor said the symptoms of the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are exactly the same -- fever, cough, sore throat, lack of energy -- and the only way you can tell the difference is by getting a coronavirus test.
"You're not gonna be able to tell unless you get tested. So please don't rush to out to the emergency room, because that's gonna overwhelm out system. What you need to do is contact your doctor," Alonso said. "It's very important that we do not just go running to the hospital to get tested."
Because of the dual threat of COVID-19 and influenza, Alonso is advising everyone to get a flu shot immediately because, if you do start showing symptoms, you can likely rule out the flu if you've gotten the vaccine.
"If you get your flu shot, my point is, that's one less thing to worry about. The flu, right?" Alonso said. "If you've never gotten your flu shot before, now is the time to do it."
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that thousands of rapid COVID-19 tests will be sent to schools across the state.
On Tuesday, Alonso said those tests will help to quickly determine whether students within Palm Beach County schools are infected with COVID-19 or the flu.
"We're gonna be able to use it in the classrooms at school if the parents consent, and that's gonna be a big advantage to know whether you have COVID or the flu," Alonso said.
Bill Johnson, the director of Palm Beach County's Department of Emergency Management, said the county has already received its initial allotment of rapid COVID-19 tests from the state, which will be given to nursing homes and schools first.
"We are working with [the state] to try to adjust that [allotment] to ensure that we get as many as we possibly can," Johnson said.
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According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 47,244 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,396 coronavirus-related deaths in Palm Beach County.
The figures show a slight increase in new cases in the 5 to 14-year-old age range, something Alonso said is to be expected because thousands of Palm Beach County students have returned to brick-and-mortar schools.
"I've been a little worried because I'm seeing some changes here and some new cases in the 5 to 14-year-old," Alonso said.
The health director said Palm Beach County's daily lab positivity rate for COVID-19 was 3.13% on Oct. 4. Health officials aim to keep that number below 5% because that allows for more effective contact tracing.
In addition, Alonso said Palm Beach County's average number of new daily COVID-19 cases has dropped from 184 cases during the week of Sept. 14 to 20, to an average of 107 new cases over the last week.
"This tells you we're able to do good contact tracing," Alonso said.