As much as we’d all like to see things return to normal as quickly as possible, the reality is that the threat of COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while. Health officials and politicians offer varying opinions on when an effective vaccine might be available, so face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand-washing remain the best bets for stopping the spread.

As if COVID-19 worries were not enough, we also have the annual flu season rapidly approaching, and the last thing health officials want to see is a double whammy of influenza cases and coronavirus infections arriving at the same time.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for as many Americans as possible to take one simple health precaution — get a flu shot.

Combating the flu during a pandemic has health officials worried that trying to treat both respiratory diseases at the same time could overwhelm the health care system with a surge in hospitalizations. During the 2019-2020 flu season, which stretched from roughly October to March, there were more than 56 million flu cases in the United States and nearly 740,000 hospitalizations.

And there’s also a concern about testing capacity and shortages in the substances — called reagents — needed to run the tests.

What’s more worrisome is the possibility of some people contracting both diseases this winter. Since both infections target the lungs, the risk for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions is substantial.

Although the overall fatality rates are low — about 0.1% for the flu and anywhere from 0.5% to 1% for COVID-19 — there were still more than 50,000 deaths attributed to the flu last season and more than 205,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%. The vaccine is widely available from doctors or pharmacists and often for little or no charge.

While researchers continue their work on finding a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19, we can all do our part to make sure health issues from the pandemic aren’t compounded by the arrival of the seasonal flu.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE