Yes, You Need a Flu Shot This Year — And Here’s Why

**By Christopher Baliga, MD**

Flu season is fast approaching, which means it may be harder for you to tell the difference between a flu symptom and symptoms associated with COVID-19. Those affected with either illness have the potential to run a fever, feel sluggish, and develop a cough and body aches. The good news is, you can protect yourself and others from both diseases by wearing your mask and getting a flu vaccination.

With so many myths and rumors floating around about whether the flu shot is necessary this year, it’s important to listen only to medical experts on this matter. We’re here to provide the facts you need to help keep yourself and those around you healthy.

Since I wear a mask, do I still need a flu shot?

Yes. While masks are helpful in reducing the spread of pathogens, they are not as effective for preventing the flu. By combining mask wearing with  the flu shot, you will lower your risk of catching the flu while protecting yourself from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Just as important, getting a flu shot means you are less likely to spread the disease to others.

Flu.signWon’t a flu shot increase my chances of catching the coronavirus?

There is no evidence to suggest that getting a flu shot will impact your risk of contracting COVID-19. But what we know for certain is that a flu shot will reduce your risk of getting the flu.

Does wearing a mask protect my immune system?

Wearing a mask has no effect on your immune system itself. It does reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 by up to 80%, but wearing a mask does not change your immune system on its own.

Some of us might remember the days when people were opposed to government mandates requiring the use of seatbelts in cars. Similarly, we’ve seen pushback against wearing masks in public. Just like wearing your seatbelt can save your life, masks help reduce your chances of catching COVID-19, while the flu shot reduces your risk of contracting the flu (or reduces the severity of illness if you do get sick). But unlike a seatbelt which only really protects you, masking and getting a flu shot also helps protect those around you.

If you’re in search of where to get a flu shot this year, consider visiting a Virginia Mason drive-thru/drive-up location, open through Oct. 23. Find more information on the location closest to you here.


Baliga, ChrisChristopher Baliga, MD, is board-certified by the American Academy of Internal Medicine in infectious diseases and internal medicine. He practices at Virginia Mason Seattle Medical Center. Dr. Baliga specializes in infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS care and travel health. 

Managing Screen Time in a Virtual Learning Era

**By Traci McDermott, MD**

Many students this year are attending school virtually. This means around eight hours of their day will be spent in front of a screen — far more than the recommended 60-minute daily screen-time limit. This can pose a lot of challenges for parents, who are dealing with having to manage their child’s schooling while balancing working from home. Parents may feel guilty about not being able to limit the amount of time their child is spending on screens.

While you may not be able to control the amount of screen time your children must spend in class, there are many things you can do to help offset your child’s screen consumption outside of school.

Set limits

Take advantage of automatic shut-off settings in order to limit screen time. It’s also more important than ever to ensure you are sitting down and talking with kids about safe internet content and safe use of social media.

Whenever possible, try to limit additional screen time outside of virtual learning to quality social connections with family members or friends. Live chats over Facetime, Skype or Caribu are better than quick texts, SnapChat or other social media platforms that don’t involve real-time conversations. Zoom meetings or practices that help keep kids engaged in their community and with other kids should be prioritized over free screen time use.

Take breaks

No matter if you are a child or a parent, in school or at work, everyone should build a habit of spending 10 minutes away from a screen each hour. You could do this by using a simple kitchen timer or by turning on automatic shut-off settings on your device.

family dance partyMake breaks from school work at home physical – not a game or video on the screen. Turn on music and have a make-shift dance party, or let kids create their own dance routine. Use painters’ tape to create hopscotch on the floor, or encourage them to learn a new active skill, like juggling.

Get physical

Parents should try to prioritize exercise or active play with their kids for 60 minutes most days. This will take away time spent in front of a screen.

If your child has an already established physical routine due to team sports or practices during normal times, do your best to keep a similar schedule. Your child might be used to a 30-60 minute practice two or three times a week at, say, football practice. Encourage them to continue that same schedule by keeping their bodies moving in some way on their own. With no games to attend on the weekends, the whole family could instead go for a walk or run, or have your own scrimmage in the yard (or closest open green space).

You can even consider virtual physical classes, like online workouts. Yes, this is inviting another screen into your child’s day, but in moderation, these encourage kids to move and exercise, which is beneficial to the body as a whole. Also, many dance classes have been shifted to virtual, which help kids keep social connections and stay active. This can be a good indoor option once the weather cools down.

Unplug at night

 Consider setting a limit for your child to ditch the phones, video games and YouTube videos no less than an hour before bed each night. Some parents even opt for “family charging stations,” where all electronics live at night to help kids (and parents, too!) unplug when it’s time for sleep.

Of course, these tips are not one-size-fits-all. While many families are able to easily set limits for their children, there are just as many where setting limits will pose a significant challenge.

If you’re worried that your child is still spending too much time in front of a screen even after following these steps, make sure to look for the following warning signs. Seek medical help if your child:

  • Develops problems sleeping
  • Develops regular/daily headaches
  • Has significant weight change (either gaining or losing)
  • Has emotional withdrawal

Good luck! Remember, making sure your child’s sleep and exercise needs are met will significantly reduce the overall time spent on screens, while boosting their readiness for virtual learning.


Traci.McDermott MDTraci McDermott, MD, specializes in Pediatrics at Virginia Mason University Village in Seattle. Dr. McDermott is an American Board of Pediatrics-certified practitioner.

Helping Your Child Wear a Mask During COVID-19

**By Rebecca Partridge, MD**

If you are a parent of a young child during the pandemic, you know firsthand how hard it can be to explain what is going on and why your child must wear a face covering when in public places or around people outside of your household. I’m sure many of you have felt like giving up on having your little ones mask up.

As a parent myself, I recognize that teaching children the importance of wearing a mask has its challenges. Still, I’m here to tell you that even if your child is struggling with this new directive, you can do it! It’s just going to take time and persistence. Current CDC guidelines state that anyone able to wear a mask, excluding children under 2 years of age, should do so in order to keep each other safe. Advice for younger children includes prioritizing mask wearing for times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, such as in carpools or when standing in line. 

mom-maskAs a mother and a physician who sees many parents struggling when it comes to teaching their young children why and how to wear their masks, I’ve come up with a few kid-friendly tips.

Get them excited about it

I’ve found that kids respond well to masks featuring their favorite cartoon characters or other designs that excite them. By providing your child with different choices in terms of the color, shapes, styles and features on the mask, you can turn something that is foreign and uncomfortable into something exciting and actually fun. Many children love to look like Spider-Man or Minnie Mouse; if their mask gives them an opportunity to “become” their favorite characters, your child is more likely to wear it. Parents should also express their own enthusiasm for masking up when around their kids to serve as an example that hopefully gets followed.

Gradually increase mask time

I’m hearing from many parents that their child is willing to try on the mask, but that they can only keep it on for a few seconds before they get bored and take it off. Parents should work with their child on wearing a mask for short periods of time to start and then graduate to longer periods of mask wearing. Try doing a countdown with your kids, distract them by playing their favorite video or giving them their favorite toy. Provide praise and positive attention when they keep the mask on. Do this until your child is able to keep the mask on for the time needed to run an errand in public or other activities you’d like to enjoy with your family.

Read stories with your child that include mask-wearing characters

For children who are having a really hard time tolerating wearing a mask, consider reading books to them about the topic. Book characters might go into the steps of putting on a mask or its importance to protect one’s health and those around them. Hearing and seeing these behaviors in a child-friendly format might resonate with your child, helping them better understand why mask-wearing is so important.

Don’t give up!

It will take time to get your child used to wearing a mask. Continue to employ these steps and your efforts will pay off. If your child is still having trouble after trying some of the advice above, you might consider a face shield. Although a mask is the best way to keep your child and others safe, a face shield is a good option for parents of kids who might be more sensitive to touch or having things touching their faces. In these cases, a shield can be a good introduction in teaching your child to wear a mask later on. 

Meanwhile, don’t forget to give yourself credit for everything you’re doing to support your family during such a challenging time. Good luck and be well!   


Rebecca Partridge

Rebecca Partridge, MD, is a Pediatrics specialist at Virginia Mason Issaquah Medical Center. Dr. Partridge is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. Her medical interests includes general pediatrics, Down syndrome and emergency pediatrics.