10 tips to prepare for cold and flu season during COVID-19

With contributions from Dr. Rhonda Low and Dr. Jessica Chan

Crisp mornings, crunchy leaves, and pumpkin spiced lattes signify that fall has arrived and that winter is soon to come – however – fall and winter, while festive and seasonal, are also known as cold and flu season.

This year, cold and flu season is especially important to be aware of due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With warm summer weather following strict physical distancing protocols put into place in the spring, COVID-19 numbers across the country declined. However, cold and flu season, which peaks around October to January, and lasts until around April, will most likely see many Canadians contracting influenza, or the common cold, as well as COVID-19. It’s important to take all the precautions we can this winter to avoid getting sick, and minimize the confusion of wondering “do I have the sniffles? Or is this COVID-19?”.

Why do we get sick during the winter?

You’ve probably heard your grandmother warn you not to leave the house with wet hair as you’ll catch a cold. The reason most people catch colds in the colder months is multi-factored. We tend to spend more time indoors and in close quarters with other people in the winter. Enclosed spaces and contact with others helps spread viruses due to decreased ventilation and inhalation of virus containing airborne droplets and aerosols. Many viruses also prefer colder weather and lower humidity, so they tend to stick around more in the colder months.

So, what can we do to prepare for this unique cold and flu season? Here are 10 tips to reduce your risk of catching a cold, the flu or COVID-19.

1. Ask your family physician if they do virtual visits

Knowing that you and your family have an experienced medical professional that you can access when you need them is a great way to ensure continuity of care. Finding a physician who does virtual visits is also important. If physician offices need to close this winter due to a major surge in COVID-19 cases, virtual healthcare will once again become an essential method of of delivering healthcare.

2. Download a virtual care app

Apps like Akira and Babylon are great resources for when you are unable to visit your family physician, and they’ve also been crucial methods of care for Canadians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Copeman clients receive Akira with their membership, so sign up today instead of waiting until you get sick.

3. Get the influenza vaccine

While the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19, influenza can mimic the symptoms of COVID-19. If you get the flu vaccine, and end up falling ill, it will be easier for you and your care team to determine your likelihood of having contracted COVID-19. Contact your Copeman Healthcare care team to book an appointment to get your flu vaccine. Your local pharmacy will also have flu vaccines in stock.

4. Maintain COVID-19 hygiene precautions

Just as we have been doing for months, it’s important to continue to follow COVID-19 safety precautions – they’ll help prevent everything from the sniffles to coronavirus. Wear a mask in public indoor spaces, physically distance yourself from others and practice proper hand hygiene. Avoid crowded areas both indoors and out (or if you cannot, wear a mask) It’s also important to keep your social bubble small, and when possible, stay home. Download the Federal government’s COVID-19 tracer app, COVID Alert, that can help tell you if you’ve been unwittingly exposed.

5. Get a mask that is safe and comfortable to wear

You’ll most likely be wearing a mask a lot this fall and winter, and it’s important to wear a mask when visiting public spaces, and when indoors with other people. Ensure you wash your hands before putting your mask on, and wash them again when you take it off. If you don’t like the fit of the disposable masks, try making a homemade face mask.

6. Make alternative care arrangements if you or a family member get sick

If you, or a family member get sick, it’s important to make a care plan. If you get sick, you may be required to isolate. This means you may not be able to look after your children or elderly relatives, and you may need your partner or family member to look after your children until you recover. Arranging for grocery pick-up and drop-off for elderly relatives may also be helpful. Products such as The TELUS Health LivingWell Companion can help those living alone, and those caring for elderly relatives ensure care and safety in the event that they are isolated.

7. Take care of your physical health

Continue to support your physical health by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Taking care of your physical base line will help support your immunity through cold and flu season.

8. Take care of your mental health

Unfortunately, it’s possible that we could enter another lockdown this fall and winter. It’s important to acknowledge the consequences the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadians’ mental health. Isolation, economic worries and fears around health can lead to depression and anxiety. Forming a bubble of close family and friends you can lean on when you need to is crucial, and if you’re isolated from them, connect with loved ones virtually. Make a mental health toolkit for the fall and winter that includes self-care, and activities that relax you, such as yoga, meditation, baths and reading. If you need additional support with your mental health, connecting with a counsellor or psychologist is an excellent way to develop coping mechanisms for stress that may arise through the fall and winter.

9. Take care of any health maintenance appointments now

Get what you need to get done before cold and flu season strikes. Any health maintenance appointments, dentist appointments, physiotherapy appointments, and non-emergency procedures such as vaccinations, pap smears and blood tests are important appointments to take care of. If professional offices need to once again limit their hours and visits, you’ll be glad to have gotten these procedures out of the way!

10. Check in with trusted government resources for COVID-19 updates

Ensure that you’re getting your news from credible sources, and avoid anxiously scrolling through social media for updates. Your provincial government website is your most trustworthy source of information. If you’re looking for more information on finding credible news sources during the COVID-19 pandemic, read this article from Chief Neuroscience Officer at TELUS Health Diane McIntosh.

Together, we can keep ourselves healthy during this years’ cold and flu season. For more information on how to best prepare for cold and flu season, please contact your primary care provider.