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Health department says last month was Springfield area’s worst November for flu in 20 years

KENDRA Finley SGCHD 12012022.jpg
Gregory Holman/KSMU
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Kendra Finley, administrator for community health and epidemiology at Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

In a Thursday press conference, Springfield-area health officials warned residents about this year’s flu season, offered suggestions for staying healthy — and announced that hospitals are asking visitors 14 and younger to stay home.

Flanked by doctors with CoxHealth and Mercy hospitals, Springfield-Greene County Health Department leaders warned the community Thursday that November 2022 was the worst November in 20 years, in terms of flu numbers in the Springfield area.

Kendra Finley is Administrator of Community Health & Epidemiology for Springfield’s health department.

“Those numbers are just like a tip of the iceberg," Finley told KSMU. "Those are only the people who've gone to the doctor and gotten tested. Think of all the people who are sick who never go to the doctor, because it's flu, there's not much they can do for you. So when we see a spike of 876 cases last month, and nothing compares to that in the last 20 years, except for 230 cases reported during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. That leads me to believe that we may have a very severe flu season.”

Finley and other health leaders said it’s very important to practice basic precautions this year: Wash your hands frequently. Try to sneeze or cough into your elbow. Stay home if you feel sick. And if you suspect COVID-19, get tested.

Doctors said local hospitals are already seeing increased patient levels for flu, COVID and RSV — a respiratory illness that can be especially difficult for young children.

But even though the COVID pandemic era has been tough for health care staffing, officials said Springfield’s hospitals have the resources needed to get through the winter season.

Gregory Ledger is a Mercy hospital doctor.

“So certainly there is a stress across the country with staffing," Ledger told reporters Thursday, "as so many people have left health care during the COVID crisis. But I would assure you we are staffed and we definitely have the ability to take care of our, our community. And that's not a not a concern.”

Because flu, COVID and RSV cases are on the rise early in the season this year, Mercy and CoxHealth both announced Thursday that visitors 14 and younger will be restricted from hospitals.

The goal is to slow the spread of respiratory diseases. No other restrictions on visitors were announced at the Thursday news conference, though hospital officials said masks would continue to be required in clinical healthcare settings.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.