DENVER — While the number of COVID-19 cases continues to drop across Colorado and the U.S., doctors are starting to see the return of other, more common viruses and illnesses, like strep throat, the flu and the common cold.
“More and more people are coming into our clinics with acute respiratory infections, sore throats, and we’re seeing an uptick in those viruses that were always there, they were just kind of hidden by the huge impact of COVID in communities,” Dr. Scott Joy said.
Joy is the chief medical officer of physician services at HealthONE, overseeing more than 500 primary care doctors. He says those doctors, as well as the urgent care clinics under the HealthONE umbrella, are seeing these increases.
“These viruses are returning because of our change in our human to human interactions,” he said, citing less restrictions, mask wearing and social distancing as reasons that people are getting sick with these common illnesses.
There was a “sharp drop” in the number of flu cases during the pandemic, according to the School of Public Health at Harvard. And while there is a yearly vaccine for the flu and something like strep throat is easily treatable, is the rise concerning when compared to COVID-19?
“The fact that we’re seeing a rise in acute respiratory infections, I think the key thing is, you cannot assume it’s just the common cold anymore. You have to prove it is not COVID 19,” he said. “And I think that’s the big behavioral change we're going to see in the health care space.”
Joy believes that if you go to the doctor with respiratory symptoms, you’ll first be tested for COVID-19 and then diagnosed with something else after you’ve tested negative. He says that may be the case for a while as we look to avoid another wave of coronavirus. That fact could also change how we live our lives moving forward.
“So, before, we used to come to work with minor cold symptoms, right? I think that is no longer going to be expected. I think any health care provider and any employee who has a sore throat or runny nose, a dry cough, they're going to have to really be prudent to be tested for COVID-19 to make sure you're negative before you return to that workplace," Joy said. "I think that's the long-standing behavioral change that we're going to see as a result of the pandemic."