US Coronavirus Deaths Pass 170,000 as Flu Season Nears

Ralph Ellis

August 18, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Coronavirus deaths in the United States passed the 170,000 mark on Sunday — by far the most of any country in the world — with health experts saying another surge of coronavirus cases coupled with the impending flu season could create a deadly "twindemic."

Worldwide there have been about 776,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Johns Hopkins University says. Following the United States in the number of deaths is Brazil with 108,000.

In an interview with WebMD, CDC Director Robert Redfield MD said the United States could be facing the "worst fall" that "we've ever had" because of the overlap between the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season.

That's one reason health experts are encouraging people to get flu shots. Flu vaccinations won't prevent a person from getting the coronavirus, but could help ease the strain on medical resources.

"Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death," the CDC says. "Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources."

The FDA has given emergency authorization for a test that will check for A and B type seasonal flu viruses and COVID-19 at the same time, the CDC says.

"Testing for these viruses at the same time will give public health officials important information about how flu and COVID-19 are spreading and what prevention steps should be taken," the CDC says.

Manufacturers have projected they'll produce 194-198 million doses of flu vaccine for the 2020-21 flu season, the CDC says. A record 175 million doses were produced during the 2019-2020 flu season.

The 2020-21 flu season was relatively mild. In preliminary estimates, the CDC says 24,000 to 62,000 deaths occurred during that flu season, with 410,000 to 740,000 hospitalizations.

The flu season occurs in the fall and the winter with peaks between December and February, according to the CDC. 

Organizations are being encouraged to urge their employees to get vaccinated. The University of California system has gone further and requires all employees and students to have flu shots by November 1.

COVID-19 and the flu share some symptoms, but with the flu it's less common to have breathing problems. COVID-19 tends to come on gradually, while flu symptoms hit hard and fast.

About 20% of people with COVID-19 need hospital care, compared to 1-2% with the flu.


WebMD. Redfield: This Fall Could Be 'Worst' We've Seen

CDC. "Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2020-2021 Season"

CDC. "2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates"

University of California. "New flu vaccination requirement for UC students, faculty and staff"