Originally from LA Times/Rong-Gong Lin II, Luke Money

A one-two punch of COVID-19 and the flu is striking California, sickening residents — some so severely they’ve had to go to the hospital — interrupting daily life and threatening to upend holiday plans.

But while both diseases are spreading widely, officials stress that Californians aren’t powerless. There are steps everyone can take to better protect themselves and those around them.

Here are some tips:

Get your shots

Vaccines are available for COVID-19 and the flu — and officials say rolling up your sleeve is a potent way to ward off severe illness.

The updated COVID-19 booster shot became available in September, but most people haven’t gotten it. Statewide, 19.4% of eligible residents have received the additional dose, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The new bivalent booster is formulated to protect not only against the original coronavirus strain, but the Omicron subvariants that dominated the nation throughout much of the year — namely BA.5.

“Getting that updated bivalent vaccine is the single most important thing you can do to make sure immunity is up to date and that you can fight the virus that’s out there,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

Among UC San Francisco employees and students, 1 in 100 people who have gotten the updated COVID-19 booster have since come down with a coronavirus infection. But among those who haven’t gotten the shot, 1 in 20 have been infected, Dr. Ralph Gonzales, a UC San Francisco associate dean, said at a recent campus town hall.

“When you have good strain match with the booster and the vaccine, you actually do prevent quite a bit of infection,” Gonzales said.

It’s also not too late to get your primary COVID vaccine series. In October, unvaccinated Californians were two times more likely to become infected and be hospitalized with COVID-19 and three times more likely to die from the disease than their vaccinated counterparts, state data show.

The flu shot is also very well matched to the circulating flu strains this season, officials say.

“Because any case of influenza can end up being severe, especially when it spreads to people who are at high risk — and this includes older adults and young children — we do ask that you know that it’s not too late to get your seasonal flu shot,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

Officials also note residents can get both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

“It’s really easy. It’s totally safe. It works. Your immune system is very good at being able to handle two vaccines at once,” Jha said Friday.

Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes

It sounds simple, but it’s true. Many viral illnesses, including flu and respiratory syncytial virus — or RSV — are spread through touch, such as making contact with a contaminated surface and then your face.

“Spend at least 20 seconds scrubbing with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water,” Ferrer said.

It’s also a good idea to disinfect commonly touched surfaces, Gonzales said.

Avoiding touching your face as much as possible is also a good idea. Flu can be transmitted by touching a virus-contaminated surface and then touching your hand, eye or mouth.

“Very good studies have shown that if we can double down our efforts to be vigilant about this, that will increase our chances of staying flu free,” Gonzales said.

The coronavirus, on the other hand, is primarily transmitted through the air — namely when an infected person coughs or sneezes. That’s why it’s important to cover your face, using something like your elbow or a tissue, when you sneeze or cough.

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