Flu and masks

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Healthcare systems across the country have been battling COVID-19 for nearly two years. Face coverings are proven to be one one of the most important tools in keeping this virus at bay. Cloth masks are a popular infection control method worldwide, but they are a new prevention strategy in American life. Although they have become controversial, it is undeniable they slow the spread of COVID-19 and the flu. The flu and masks should be a common association.

Please take a few minutes to watch this PBS program on the importance of masks.

The impact

It seems like every year, thousands of people contract the dreaded flu. This terrible illness has become a part of our seasonal culture. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimated that 28,000 people died from influenza from 2018 to 2019 in the United States. From 2017 to 2018, an estimated 52,000 people died in our country alone. Every year thousands meet an untimely death from this virus. Data trends and studies on the effectiveness of masks have some wondering if they should be worn more often.

Masks aren’t about necessarily protecting ourselves. They are about protecting others from contaminated droplets. Wearing a mask during the flu season might be the best way to protect our communities.

Infection prevention

Cheryl Houselog is Tri-County Health Care’s infection preventionist. She has the duty of stopping the spread of contagions. For the last two years, she has worked non-stop to provide safe working environments for the staff and patients of Tri-County Health Care. When asked what she felt was the best way to prevent the spread of the flu, she quickly stated the importance of respiratory hygiene. To her, a cloth mask is one of the most important barriers between you and sickness. Cheryl doesn’t think you need to constantly wear a mask but choosing to wear one in certain situations makes sense. When you plan to be around several different people, wearing a mask, especially during the flu season, can be a very wise decision.

“The fact that we did not see a lot of colds or influenza last year indicates that masking helps prevent transmission of many respiratory diseases,” – Cheryl Houselog

Masking is more important than ever! They may not be convenient or fashionable, but they can save lives. Data from the Influenza Surveillance Network has been included below. If you compare rates of influenza in the State of Minnesota, it is clear that mitigation efforts were having a strong impact on the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. This winter, make sure you’re protected from the flu by wearing your masks and getting your flu shot.

Flu and Masks statistics.


Masks matter in schools!

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“I choose to wear a mask for a couple of different reasons. I currently have a high-risk teacher, and I want to protect the residents I work with at Mills Manor. I also don’t want to miss out on things like homecoming, prom, sports, and graduation,” said Lauryn Gravelle when asked about masks in school.

Senior year of high school is a major milestone in a person’s K-12 education. It is the grand finale that makes all the homework, cramming, and pop quizzes fade away. However, students have been missing out on this well-earned victory lap in the last couple of years. In 2020, graduations and proms were canceled in mass or held in an orthodox fashion. This year is gearing up to be no different as schools around the nation report high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases.

Lauryn is very busy with school, sports, and masks!

Lauryn Gravelle

Out of fashion

For a good chunk of 2020, masks were in style. Students across the country were sewing and bedazzling mask fabric in an act of pandemic unity. Unfortunately, things have shifted over the last several months, with mask no longer being seen as a helpful resource, only a hindrance. Right now, masks and the vaccine are two of the most powerful tools in the fight against COVID-19, but fatigue has set in. Months ago, classrooms were filled with masked students doing their best to continue studying during a pandemic. That fatigue is seen in school systems across the country.

Doing the right thing isn’t always comfortable

Lauryn’s mother, Wendy Gravelle, is a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Tri-County Health Care. She is also passionate about masking and the vaccine. “I was surprised as I didn’t know she was doing it. At a volleyball game, I saw her wearing it. I asked why she had it on, thinking maybe she wasn’t feeling well,” explained Wendy. Lauryn told her mother she wanted to protect those around her and do more to help during the pandemic.

“I honestly was just so proud at that moment to realize this is something she chose on her own, and it wasn’t me forcing her to do it.  Her sisters have also started wearing their masks, and I believe it was because of the impact she had on them.” – Wendy Gravelle

Wendy has four children, and all of them willfully chose to be vaccinated. Her family is very connected to the caregiving environment, and they would never want to accidentally transmit the virus to others, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. Lauryn works in an assisted living home and is frequently around people highly susceptible to COVID-19.

Masks have fallen out of fashion at many schools.

Masked and united

Masking is still crucial in the fight against COVID-19. It’s so important that even the vaccinated should wear one. Breakthrough infections can still occur in the vaccinated, making masks necessary for everyone when out and about. “I decided that Lauryn is empowering me to also follow her lead, and I wore my mask to her volleyball game. Everyone assumes you’re sick if you wear it. I informed them that if Lauryn can wear her mask at school, so can I,” said Wendy. Lauryn and some of her friends have been wearing masks to school, sporting events and while out shopping. They hope wearing their masks will inspire others to do the same. Lauryn is especially concerned for younger people that claim COVID-19 is a hoax.

The vaccine is currently available to children 12 and up. The vaccine is expected to be open to children ages 5 to 11 soon. Wendy spoke with Tri-County providers before getting her kids vaccinated. She recommends that parents talk to a trusted medical professional in addition to gathering information from trusted sources.

Wendy Gravelle is supporter of masks and vaccinations.

Wendy Gravelle

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Tri-County Health Care aims to vaccinate as many people as possible. To schedule an appointment, call 218-631-3510. Patients can also request the vaccine during regular provider appointments. Please follow Tri-County Health Care on social media or visit TCHC.org/covidvaccine for regular updates.