The White House should be getting the nation ready now for the double threat of influenza and coronavirus in the fall, a group of Democratic senators said Thursday.
"The combination of a COVID-19 resurgence with the annual flu outbreak is likely to strain the health care system even further, requiring even greater supplies, funding, and staff than our hospitals have needed thus far, while placing an unprecedented burden on our public health systems," the senators, organized by Massachusetts Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, wrote in a letter addressed to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
"The federal government must prepare now for this alarming scenario," the senators wrote in their letter, released exclusively to CNN.
Several experts have warned that coronavirus could unleash a fresh onslaught in the fall, and combine with the regular appearance of seasonal influenza. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the Financial Times newspaper Thursday that Covid-19 could "reground" itself in the northern hemisphere in the autumn.
"President Trump has deemed these warnings as 'fake news,' " the 15 senators wrote.
"His downplaying of the threat is irresponsible: the failure to prepare for this known risk could result in many unnecessary deaths. We urge you to begin planning for and activating the resources of the federal government now to increase capacity, supplies, and vaccinations to prevent public health and medical systems from being overwhelmed by simultaneous peaks of both of these deadly infectious diseases in the fall."
Also signing the letter were Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Patty Murray of Washington, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Jacky Rosen of Nevada.
Already overwhelmed hospitals
Earlier on Thursday a panel of emergency room doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and others described to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis how overwhelmed they and their hospitals have been by the pandemic, which has killed more than 98,000 Americans.
Adding flu to the mix could not only increase the toll, but worsen the strain on hospitals. Flu kills between 12,000 and 61,000 people a year, depending on the season, and puts as many as 800,000 people into the hospital. Already this year, coronavirus has infected more than 1.5 million Americans.
"Previous severe flu outbreaks by themselves have stretched the capacity of our health care system, leading to shortages of hospital beds and nurses," the senators wrote.
"The COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived in the U.S. near the end of this year's flu season, has required hospitals to operate at maximum capacity, mobilizing additional staff and creating field hospitals to handle the overflow of patients."
The senators said the United States needs to start a flu vaccination campaign to try to reduce the toll this coming flu season. The CDC recommends that almost everyone get a flu shot every year but fewer than half of Americans do.
"This effort will be complicated if patients are reluctant to visit their primary care physicians for routine health care or other providers from whom they may seek vaccination because of the risk of exposure to COVID-19," they wrote.
The country also needs to start stocking up on vaccines and other equipment now, they said.
"The federal government was unprepared for the COVID-19 outbreak and, as a result, our frontline health care workers have been put at risk due to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the COVID-19 outbreak has exploded because of a lack of supplies needed to ensure wide-scale testing," they wrote.
"Now is the time to increase production and purchasing of essential equipment."
The senators asked Pence to respond by June 3.