Happy break? Covid-19 measures appear to have killed the flu season

The pandemic fulfills many of the worst expectations public health experts in the US and Europe had of fall and winter.

There is one thing they were worried about, but it doesn’t seem to be happening: a “twilight” from Covid and seasonal influenza.

Instead, the flu is AWOL – at least so far. In New York City, where a practical number of emergency rooms for flu-like illnesses and other illnesses are posted daily, the number in the first half of December is less than a third of the latest norm.

This apparent absence of influenza is almost certainly not just a happy break. Neither is it the result of a cover-up where authorities count flu cases as Covid-19 cases (apparently a popular theory among some Covid denialist circles). It is conceivable that coronavirus cases are less likely to be considered flu-like illnesses in New York emergency rooms than in March last year, when Covid tests were scarce and health care workers were less familiar with Covid symptoms. It is also possible that people will only avoid emergency rooms when they can. However, positive influenza test results recorded in FluView from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an even more dramatic decline.

That dark blue line, which is barely distinguishable from zero for most of the year, is 2020. The positive test sum for the week ending December 5 – the latest available data – was only 56. In the same week last year, it was 6,435 . The start of the flu season in the northern hemisphere is considered the 40th week of the year, ending October 3rd and making December 5th the end of week 49.

Yes, the 2011-2012 flu season started with an even lower number of positive tests. However, this is misleading as the number of flu tests performed has risen sharply since then (although the number of Covid-19 tests performed this year is still a long way from coming). Those 511 positive results in the first 10 weeks of the 2011-2012 flu season came from 40,150 tests, giving a positive rate of 1.3%. This year’s 602 positives come from 401,112 tests, which corresponds to a positivity rate of 0.15%.

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