Stormont Vail Hospital makes preparations to handle both influenza and COVID-19

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 6:55 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Healthcare workers at Stormont Vail Hospital continue to test more than 100 people with COVID-19 symptoms at their drive through test site at 10th and Garfield every weekday.

Simultaneously, members of the hospital’s flu committee are planning how to best handle the seasonal virus.

Flu shots were made available by providers on September 8 and about 1,500 have already been administered.

The hospital’s Medical Director for Urgent Care Clinics, Dr. Korri Phillips noted while influenza and COVID-19 may have similar symptoms, the viruses have distinct differences.

“Influenza is like getting hit by a truck. Your symptoms start very quickly and you’re down and out with a high fever and a deep cough whereas COVID seems to go up and down and a little longer onset for those symptoms,” Dr. Phillips said.

“They still get fever and they still have cough but not all of them have those symptoms.”

Those who think they might have either virus should call the hospital’s COVID-19 hotline; where a representative will ask the caller a series of questions to determine whether a flu or COVID-19 best suits them.

“If there’s a question of influenza versus COVID, or coronavirus, we’d test them for those things you can actually have both but it’s very uncommon and so we would test them and then treat them appropriately,” Phillips said.

“We’re all still in this bubble of not knowing what tests are going to be available to us right now we don’t have a combined test for the flu that has coronavirus testing in it but we hope that that’s coming before the flu season starts if not then we have separate tests for influenza and coronavirus and it may still be that coronavirus gets sent to an outside lab and takes a couple days to come back.”

This year, Stormont patients experiencing respiratory symptoms for flu or COVID-19 can expect to be sent to the special respiratory clinic set up at the Fielding Road office.

Other locations have also been set up in Manhattan and Wamego, with other locations planned to open if a surge in flu or COVID-19 cases warrant the need for more space.

Phillips said the same safety measures used to reduce the risk of COVID-19 also fight off the flu.

“Everything we have in place for coronavirus right now should help us decrease our rates for flu, the hand washing, the distance, wearing the mask and such we’re anticipating that that’ll bring our flu numbers down, that’s what we’re hopeful for.”

Phillips said this year is especially important to get a flu shot and if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, get it, too.

“They’re different viruses so influenza vaccines are built against the flu viruses they’re built each year based on the viruses that we’ve seen in the previous couple of years and so the hope is that we’ll anticipate what strains of influenza are coming that year for the flu season so that one has to be done every year to be functional for that time period,” she said.

“It doesn’t mean that you won’t get influenza but it also doesn’t keep you from getting other viruses as well even common cold viruses. The coronavirus vaccine that they’re building is against that, just the coronavirus itself, we haven’t seen it enough to know how it’s going to morph over time.”

She said there’s several benefits to getting a flu shot.

“We know that the flu shot, the flu vaccine, keeps people from getting influenza but it also helps them not have severe symptoms from influenza when they do get vaccinated the more people that get vaccinated the less we have in our community as far as active disease,” she said.

“We know that they’re effective. We know that each year they may only be a certain amount effective but especially in keeping us from getting the secondary illnesses that come along with influenza it’s very effective at that.”

For Phillips, an upside of the pandemic is that the public is taking viruses more seriously.

“It’s something that we’ve tried to get in flu seasons in the past to decrease the amount of flu that we see so it’s nice that finally the community understands that they have a part to play in the spread of these illnesses.”

To reach Stormont Vail Hospital’s COVID-19 hotline call  785-354-6000 and ask for the hotline.

Flu clinics for Cotton O’Neil patients at 10th and Garfield for adults will be held on Wednesdays starting October 7 from 9am-3pm for adults.

Flu clinics for families will be held Thursdays starting October 8 from 9am-3pm.

Walk-in flu vaccines for non Cotton O’Neil patients can be accessed at  Cotton O’Neil Express Care Clinics at 6725 SW 29th Street and at 2909 SE Walnut Drive both open Monday through Friday 10 am 6pm and Saturdays and Sundays 12pm to 3pm.

Non-Cotton O’Neil patients can also call the Stormont Vail Retail Pharmacy to schedule an appointment to get their flu shot, at 2252 SW 10th Avenue, Topeka, KS 66604. They can call 785-235-8796 and they are open from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

University of Kansas Hospital Saint Francis campus in Topeka also wants anyone with flu or COVID-19 symptoms to call their doctor’s office before coming in and if a flu or COVID-19 test is needed, the caller will be directed to their Ready Care Clinic near Brewster Place.

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