Flu cases low nationwide as Americans distance themselves, wear masks in COVID-19 pandemic

Flu vaccine

OLYMPIA, Wash – The most recent data shows no one in Washington has died from the flu this flu season and flu activity nationwide remains low. Health experts say the measures we’re taking to protect ourselves from COVID-19 have kept the flu from spreading.

The Washington Department of Health has metrics through January 9th. It lists flu activity as “low” and says there have been no lab-confirmed influenza deaths this season.

The report also shows no influenza-like illness outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the state.

Last year at this time in the flu season, 30 people had died in Washington from lab-confirmed influenza. 114 people died from the flu in Washington last flu season.

In comparison, more than 4,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Washington since the pandemic began last March.

The situation is similar in Idaho, though five people have died from flu-related deaths in the Gem State this flu season. Idaho defines its flu activity as “sporadic.”

Nationwide, the CDC says 1.4% of patient visits to a health care provider were for influenza-like illness. 136 people have been hospitalized nationwide with lab-conformed influenza.

In the second week of January, 13,937 specimens were tested for the flu nationwide. Three of them were positive.

No states are reporting anything above low levels of flu activity so far this season.

CDC Weekly flu activity map

“Though caused by a different virus from the one that causes COVID-19, the flu is also a respiratory viral disease, so everything we are doing to slow transmission of COVID-19, such as wearing face masks, frequent handwashing and physical distancing, should also reduce transmission of flu,” says Eili Klein, Ph.D associate professor of emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

If you want to read more about the differences between the flu and COVID-19 and what to watch out for, this is a comprehensive comparison from the CDC. 

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There is some reason to be concerned, however, about the low number of flu cases this year.

“Because of the current restrictions and precautions everyone is taking this season, far fewer people will be infected or exposed to the flu virus, and therefore won’t become immune to certain strains of the virus,” Klein says. “So the number of people who may have more severe infections next year is likely to be greater because immunity will be lower.”