A lucky break? Covid-19 measures appear to be killing the flu season

The pandemic fulfills many of the worst expectations that public health experts in the United States and Europe have had for fall and winter.

However, one thing they care about doesn’t seem to be happening: Covid’s “twindemia” and seasonal flu.

Instead, the flu is AWOL – at least so far. In New York, which publishes a convenient daily count of emergency visits for flu and other conditions, numbers less than one-third of the recent standard for the first half of December.

This apparent absence of flu is almost certainly not just a lucky break. Nor does it result from a cover-up in which authorities calculate flu cases as cases of Covid-19 (a seemingly popular theory in some Covid non-adherent circles). It is conceivable that New York emergency rooms count fewer coronavirus cases as influenza than last March, when Covid tests were scarce and health workers were less familiar with Covid symptoms. It is also possible that people simply avoid emergency rooms if they can at all. But results from positive flu tests tracked in FluView by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an even more dramatic decline.

That dark blue line, which is almost indistinguishable from zero for most of the year, is 2020. The positive test total for the week ending December 5 – the most recent data available – was just 56. In the same week last year year it was 6,435. . The beginning of flu season in the northern hemisphere is considered to be the 40th week of the year, which ended on October 3rd, making December 5th the end of the 49th week.

Yes, the 2011-2012 flu season started with an even lower positive test score. But that’s misleading, as the number of flu tests done has grown a lot since then (although it’s still by no means close to the number of Covid-19 tests done this year). Those 511 positives in the first 10 weeks of the 2011-2012 flu season were out of 40,150 tests, for a positivity of 1.3%. This year’s 602 positives out of 401,112 tests, for a positivity of 0.15%.

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