One of the unexpected impacts of last year’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was that we had one of the least impactful flu seasons in recent history.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, from Sept. 28, 2020 through May 22, in the United States, 1,675 (or 0.2 percent) of 818,939 respiratory specimens tested by U.S. clinical laboratories were positive for an influenza virus.
The effect, according to the CDC, was “dramatically fewer” flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths compared with previous flu seasons. In the previous three flu seasons, the CDC reported, the percentage of specimens testing positive for flu peaked between 26.2 percent and 30.3 percent.
The most likely reason for this, according to the CDC, was that we were deep in the response to COVID-19 — wearing face masks, working from home and attending school from home, paying more attention to hand washing, not traveling, being in better ventilated indoor spaces and physical distancing.
The last flu season coincided with an incredibly aggressive spike of COVID-19 virus, which had preventing the spread of viruses at the forefront of our minds.
This year, however, we currently find ourselves in a different place, coming out of the most aggressive spike of COVID-19 we’ve seen locally, and beginning to re-emerge after being in a more self-imposed series of lockdowns.
That could lead to us letting our guard down and having an even worse flu season this year, if we fail to take to heart the last two years of our lives.
What we’ve learned is that, regardless of how contagious a virus is, we can take actions to reduce spread — wearing masks, washing our hands, being involved in social distancing — of that particular virus. We also know that vaccination can lead to better outcomes or even, in some cases, outright prevent infection by these dastardly little bugs.
Regardless of how our COVID-19 outlook is and where we’re at with that virus, we cannot let our guard down too much as we enter into flu season.
It’s upon each of us to help prevent the spread of the flu virus, just as it is with the COVID virus.
Get vaccinated — it’s the simplest way to prevent infection or at least lesson the impact of the virus should you catch it. While controversy unfortunately still surrounds the vaccines for COVID-19, we should be much more used to the flu vaccine by now and absolutely in-line to get it.
It’s safe and effective and, in most cases, free. Just ask your medical provider or pharmacy for more information.
If you’re sick, whether it be with RSV, flu or COVID-19, stay home until you’re better. Over the last two years, we should have better equipped our businesses for remote work or at least made preparations on what to do in the absence of both key and support staff. If your business is not so equipped, now’s the time to do so.
And, also, while the government will be unlikely to mandate it, remember that masks can be an effective way to help prevent the spread of viruses and, while you may not be told to, it’s not wrong to make the decision to wear a mask in public places when cases of other viruses, such as the flu, are spiking locally, both to protect yourself and others.
We don’t have to be in lockdown to be able to help prevent the spread of the flu, we just have to do what we called upon to undertake in connection with COVID-19 — to make better decisions to protect ourselves and, particularly, others.
Prepare now, be vigilant and be ready. Let’s not let the lessons of COVID-19 go unheeded.