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What to know about cold, flu and COVID season: November 5, 2020

By Snohomish Health District | Press Release

It’s more than flu season.

Fall and winter are a time when respiratory illnesses tend to be extra good at getting around. And this year, when we talk about respiratory illnesses, we have to focus on more than the flu or the common cold. Now it’s COVID season, too.

These illnesses generally spread in the same ways – a combination of people in close proximity and droplets from our mouths when we cough, sneeze, talk or just breathe. The droplets can carry a virus from one person to another.

Factors like colder weather and fewer daylight hours drive people indoors with the windows shut, and then there are holidays when groups of family and friends typically gather to celebrate. More people together in enclosed spaces make for opportune situations for illness to spread.

This isn’t anything new. A lot of us are used to preparing for flu and cold season, hoping it won’t be bad this year, or maybe we’ll dodge it.

We have to approach things differently this year, though. 

It’s not that we shouldn’t take the more common respiratory illnesses seriously – we absolutely should. An average of 25 deaths and several hundred hospitalizations occur annually in Snohomish County as a result of the flu. The advice to stay home and away from others if you’re sick, and to wash your hands and cover your coughs or sneezes, is all sound advice to help keep our community healthy during any fall or winter.

The COVID-19 pandemic, though, has made this season a more intense one. This coronavirus is the newest of the respiratory illnesses. It is spreading in our community, and it is much more deadly than the flu or a cold.

So let’s talk about how we can be ready for this fall and winter. There’s a lot to love about these seasons – we just need to do our part to stay healthy and keep others healthy so we can make the most of the coming months.

Get your flu shot, the sooner the better. We don’t yet have a vaccine to help protect against COVID or a common cold, but we do have annual vaccine to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with the flu, as well as the severity of illness if you do catch it.

Now is a good time to make sure you are stocked up on basic supplies in case you or someone in your household does get sick. That way, you don’t have to run out to get anything when you’re not feeling well. Key items to have include:

  • Thermometer (check your temperature at least daily)
  • Tissues
  • Hand soap and hand sanitizer
  • Medicine to help ease fever, cough, sore throat or other symptoms
  • Make sure you aren’t running low on any prescription medications
  • Easy-to-prepare food like canned soup or pre-made frozen meals you can heat up, and comforting treats like tea and honey
  • Your doctor’s phone number or local clinic number in case you need to call with questions

If you are at high risk of severe illness due to age or an underlying medical condition, identify someone you can check in with regularly by phone or message, particularly if you live alone or with someone who is also high risk.

Most of us have dragged ourselves to work, school or some other activity when we weren’t feeling well. However, this fall and winter are an especially bad time to go out – other than for medical appointments – when you’re sick. Your health is important, as is the health of those you could potentially expose.

Many of the symptoms of cold, flu or COVID overlap. If you have a cough, sore throat, fatigue or a runny or stuffy nose, that could be attributed to any of the three. The same goes for vomiting or diarrhea, and muscle pain or body aches. If you’re having a hard time breathing, that’s another one that could be cold, flu or COVID.

During this pandemic, we ask people now more than ever to take these symptoms seriously. You don’t want to assume something is the flu or a cold, but end up spreading COVID. And really, it would be best not to spread cold or flu, either (see death and hospitalization figures above). Stay home when you don’t feel well, and consider being tested for COVID.

There are some symptoms that are unique. Fever or chills could be a symptom of COVID or the flu, but likely not a cold. Then there’s new loss of taste or smell, which is more specific to COVID.

Symptoms also can vary in number and severity from person to person. You may go down for a couple of days with a fever, fatigue and bad cough, while someone else has a mild headache and stuffy nose. Some people become ill enough to need hospitalization, and some die. Preserving hospital capacity for those who become severely ill and reducing the number of deaths are key goals of the overall COVID-19 response in our community. Don’t let your mild illness become a serious or fatal illness in someone else—stay home and arrange to get tested for COVID through your health care provider or through the Health District’s testing site.

Most people who become ill with cold, flu or COVID can recover at home with rest and care – emphasis on “at home.” Your workplace, school, child care, or other public venues are not the places to be when you’re ill.

Even if you have one symptom – and even if it’s mild – please stay home from work or other activities to avoid spreading illness.

People who have chronic headaches, allergies or fatigue do not necessarily need to stay home for symptoms that are normal for them. But they should be aware of their health and pay close attention for symptoms that are outside the norm.


  • If you test negative for COVID-19, stay home until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours (without the aid of fever-reducing medicine like acetaminophen [e.g. Tylenol] or ibuprofen [e.g., Motrin]) AND your other symptoms have improved, too.
  • If you have not been tested for COVID or if you test positive for COVID-19, stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours, other symptoms have improved, AND it has been at least 10 days since your symptoms started.
  • If you have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, stay home for the full 14-day quarantine period, regardless of test status or results.

These illnesses can cause serious complications. Among the possible severe outcomes are pneumonia, respiratory failure, multiple organ failure, heart complications, secondary infections, or worsening of chronic medical conditions. We are still learning about the long-term impacts of COVID-19, but research indicates that complications like blood clots or a rare inflammatory syndrome can be linked to this coronavirus, as well.

If you experience symptoms of respiratory illness and are part of a high-risk group due to age or an existing medical condition, contact your medical provider, particularly if symptoms worsen. Your provider may have instructions for at-home care or want you to come in. Pregnant women and parents of young children may also want to contact their medical provider. Pregnant women are at higher risk for complications from influenza and COVID, and young children (especially infants) are at higher risk for complications of influenza. It’s a good idea to call your doctor or an urgent care clinic to seek medical care if:

  • Symptoms worsen or continue after several days
  • Fever is high (or if any fever persists for several days)
    • Adolescents and adults: > 103 degrees F (39.4C)
    • Children over 12 months: >102F (38.9C)
    • Infants (under 12 months): >100.4 (38C) 
  • For infants or toddlers, a lower fever may merit calling your doctor or clinic if irritability, lethargy, or breathing problems are also present.  
  • If any symptom becomes severe, such as intense ear pain; sore throat; or repeated vomiting or diarrhea

The following are examples of when to seek urgent care or call 911 for yourself or someone in your household.

  • Trouble breathing, or rapid breathing 
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Bluish or gray color of skin or lips (call 911 immediately)
  • Fever in infants younger than 3 months old
  • Not able to drink or keep liquids down
  • Not able to wake or stay awake
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion

If you call 911, tell the dispatcher if you or anyone in the household has symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19.

For more information and illness prevention tips, visit:

One Response

  1. Though the LT article regurgitates the mantra “Get yer flu shot,” published research by Wolff through the US Department of Defense found, in the 2017-2018 flu season, receiving the flu shot resulted in a significantly increased risk of contracting coronavirus and a 36% increased risk of contracting metapneumovirus!

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