Flu Season & COVID-19

As we prepare for the start of flu season, one questions is looming large on all of our minds: How will the current COVID-19 pandemic affect this flu season?

How will COVID affect flu season?

Much is still unknown about the relationship between COVID-19 and the flu, acknowledges Lawrence L. Livornese Jr., MD, Chairman of the Department of Medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Main Line Health. What we do know is that—just like every year—flu vaccines are one of the best ways to keep yourself and your family healthy, especially as we spend more time in close quarters. Below, Dr. Livornese answers some commonly-asked questions about how COVID-19 may affect flu season.

Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19?

No, but it is the best way to manage your risk for the flu and build a strong immune system. Until we have an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we need to focus on protecting ourselves against the health risks we do have vaccines for.

When should I get the flu vaccine?

Flu season usually peaks between December and February, but it’s a good idea to get vaccinated in September or October. If you aren't vaccinated by then, we still recommended you get it anytime until the end of flu season, which in some years lasts until May.

Is it safe for me to leave home to get a vaccine?

Yes; COVID-19 shouldn’t prevent you from seeking timely preventive or diagnostic medical care. As long as you’re wearing your mask and aren’t experiencing symptoms like a cough or fever, it’s safe for you to leave home for your flu vaccine. If you do have these symptoms, consult with your physician and schedule your appointment for another time. Most physician offices and pharmacies anticipate that people may be anxious about leaving home and have responded by putting additional safety measures in place including curbside or drive-thru clinics, additional staff, and more appointment times to manage overcrowding.

I don’t usually get the flu vaccine. Should I get it this year?

You should get the flu vaccine every year, this is even more important if you’re a member of one of these high-risk groups:

  • Pregnant women
  • People age 65 and over
  • Children age 6 months and over
  • People who have a history of chronic health issues

How will I know the difference between COVID-19 and the flu if they’re both respiratory illnesses?

First, it’s important to note that while these are very different viruses, COVID-19 and the flu do have very similar symptoms. The same is true of the common cold, which is another common cold weather ailment. Consult the chart below for a list of symptoms for each of these illnesses.

If you’re not sure what your symptoms mean, make an appointment with your health care provider to review your symptoms so they can make an accurate diagnosis.

How exactly COVID will affect flu season remains to be seen, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is getting vaccinated early and continuing to follow the preventive measures that have been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: masking, washing your hands, cleaning frequently-touched objects and surfaces and keeping your circle of friends and family small.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.

Changes in 2020 brought about by the SECURE and CARES Act

Below are a few questions and answers about creative, tax-advantageous ways donors can support Riddle Hospital priorities such as the Campus Modernization Project and how legislation passed in 2020 has changed these methods of giving.

Q: I understand that I don’t have to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) from my IRA this year because of a provision in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Can I still use my IRA to make a gift to Riddle Hospital through a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) if I am over the age of 70½?

A: Yes, although the CARES Act eliminated the RMD for 2020, if you take the standard deduction rather than itemizing, using QCDs to make charitable gifts remains the most tax-efficient way to contribute once you reach 70½. Don’t forget that the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act changed the age limit for RMDs from 70½ to 72 for IRA owners who turn 70½ in 2020 or later, but the age threshold for the QCD remains 70½. Once you reach 72, one of the prime tax benefits of a QCD is that it counts toward your RMD. You can learn more about using your IRA to make a gift to Riddle Hospital through the QCD here.

Q: How else does the CARES Act impact donors to charitable organizations?

A: The law gives donors taking the standard deduction the option to claim an above-the-line deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions to charities. The deduction is per “tax-filing unit,” not per person.

Also, donors who itemize their tax returns can generally deduct 60% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for charitable cash contributions. Any cash donations over that amount can be carried over for up to five years and deducted later. However, the CARES Act allows donors who itemize to deduct 100% of AGI for cash gifts to public charities, rather than the normal 60%, in 2020. This means that itemizers can deduct more of their charitable cash contributions this year. Gifts to donor advised funds, supporting organizations, or private foundations don’t qualify. Donors should consult their tax advisers to determine whether the 100% election makes sense for them.

The temporary availability of a 100%-of-AGI limit on gifts of cash presents an opportunity for donors to make large gifts from their retirement plans. This includes not only IRAs, but also 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and other defined contribution plans. Ordinarily, donors are advised against withdrawing funds from their retirement account and then giving them to charity because they must declare the withdrawal as income and limits on taking an offsetting deduction and other tax effects may result in their gift increasing their income tax. This year, though, depending on the donor’s situation, they may pay limited or no taxes on a withdrawal while making a significant gift.

Q: What is the “drain in 10” rule and how has this impacted inherited IRAs?

A: The SECURE Act mandates that most beneficiaries of retirement plan assets, other than a spouse, must withdraw all funds and pay taxes on them within a 10-year period. This can result in much larger taxes for beneficiaries and condenses the financial benefits for recipients to the 10-year period. This “drain in 10” rule disrupts the tax-preferred nature of inherited IRAs, which had allowed IRAs to grow over time and provided a lifetime benefit for heirs. A way to bypass this tax consequence for heirs is to name a Charitable Remainder Trust as the beneficiary of an IRA, which will stretch out, but not avoid, taxes on IRA assets.

We hope this serves as a helpful reminder as you plan your year-end giving. Please visit our planned giving website if you’d like to learn more about these and other ways to plan a gift to Riddle Hospital, or contact us if you have any questions. Thank you for partnering with us to better serve our community’s health care needs.

Patient Pavilion and Campus Transformation at Riddle Hospital - A Virtual Event For The Community

Please join neighbors and friends for a unique virtual experience exploring the Patient Pavilion and Campus Transformation at Riddle Hospital that will be held from 4:00-5:30 PM on Thursday, November 19, 2020. Click here to learn more and RSVP.

Virtual American Heart Association- Heart Walk

Fall has officially arrived and, at Main Line Health, we know that this change of season means the start of another much-anticipated annual event: the American Heart Association Heart Walk. While COVID has required us to postpone many professional and personal celebrations, I am happy to report that there will be a Heart Walk this year! Like most things lately, it will be hosted a little differently, but I am looking forward to once again participating in this event and hope you will join me, too.

Instead of the in-person event typically held at Citizens Bank Park, this year’s Heart Walk will be a virtual one. While I know that I will miss the camaraderie of the in-person event and the opportunity to walk alongside the MLH team, I know that not only is this event a safer option, it also allows our colleagues who have been previously unable to attend the Heart Walk to participate. This year’s campaign includes a week-long celebration of virtual events beginning on November 2nd and will culminate with the virtual Heart Walk on Friday, November 6th at 1:00pm.

As always, we will be fundraising for the AHA as part of our Heart Walk efforts. If you are able to give, I hope you’ll consider a donation to the American Heart Association to help us meet our $135,000 fundraising goal. Your donation directly benefits our community and supports a number of important initiatives including:

  • Research grants to help us better understand the link between COVID-19 and its interaction with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.
  • Emergency food relief to community members within North Philadelphia.
  • Providing at-home health kits, which include a blood pressure cuff, thermometer, and educational resources to help patients in our community who need to manage hypertension from the safety of their home.

Every dollar makes a difference, and I appreciate any donations toward this important cause.

MLH System Funding Initiatives Highlight- Behavioral Health

"We are facing a behavioral health crisis. One in four members of our community has grappled with a mental health issue—translating to over 375,000 lives. Meanwhile, behavioral health care facilities are in short supply. The situation is dire, but here’s the good news: we can see our behavioral health patients through to wellness and recovery, together. We invite you to learn how. The comprehensive understanding and personal treatment involved in behavioral health cannot be adequately addressed by a “one size fits all” approach. In order to better represent the nuances of behavioral health treatment across the wide spectrum of mental health conditions, we have segmented this virtual experience into four unique perspectives: Disease, Behavioral, Dimensional, and Life Story.

Main Line Health launched this virtual series to educate our community about some of our key funding priorities for 2020-2021. Individuals interested in Philanthropically supporting these initiatives can donate online.

Upcoming Events:

Thursday, November 19, 2020 - MLH “Be Seen” virtual event: Master Facility Plan.- To RSVP or for more information about our Be Seen event series email [email protected].

Thursday, November 19-23, 2020 - Master Facility Plan Online Auction

Saturday, April 17, 2021 - Man O’War Gala: Night at the Races (Live/Virtual TBD)