Despite COVID-19 cases spiking around the same time, Tennessee experienced a marked decrease in flu cases last month. Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) data sets from the last week of 2019 and 2020 revealed a 90 percent decrease in overall flu cases. The end of December registered a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, near the all-time high in the state’s positivity rates.
TDH recorded over 6,700 flu cases in the final week of 2019, as compared to just over 600 during the last week of 2020. Last month, the percentage of individuals with flu-like illnesses visiting the reporting healthcare sites was exactly 2 percent; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) baseline for Tennessee sits at around 3 percent. According to the CDC, two or more consecutive weeks that fall under 2 percent reporting constitutes a “non-influenza week.”
Vanderbilt University Medical Center Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. William Schaffner told reporters that the decrease in flu cases may have been caused by certain pandemic regulations, such as distance learning and mask-wearing.
“I think the distribution mechanism for the virus has been dampened so much that we’re not seeing very much influenza at all,” stated Schaffner. “Maybe wearing that mask is not such a bad idea during the flu season. That’s what they do in many Asian countries. Maybe it will become more the social norm here, also.”
However, those measures didn’t seem to have the same effect in preventing the cases of COVID-19 from increasing during the last week of 2020.
Dr. David Aronoff, Vanderbilt University Medical Center Infectious Disease specialist director, stated that most doctors shouldn’t be shocked by decreased flu cases. He explained that countries in the Southern Hemisphere who experience winter earlier and serve as an indicator for how illnesses will impact the U.S. experienced a mild flu season.
Health officials theorized that the increased numbers of flu vaccinations this past season impacted the flu’s reach. According to the CDC, more people received flu vaccinations in the U.S. than in any other previous season – 192.5 million doses administered as of January 1.
The Tennessee Star reached out to TDH spokespersons to inquire as to why flu cases may have decreased as COVID-19 cases increased. Their spokespersons didn’t respond by press time.
In order to counter the spread of COVID-19 more effectively, state officials are launching an online scheduling system for COVID-19 vaccine appointments. At the time of press, over 4,600 new positive cases were reported.
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