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COVID-19 Measures Foiled The Flu, Offering Lessons For Next Year

The U.S. hasn't contained COVID-19, but all of these public health precautions have certainly done a number on the flu.
Tero Vesalainen

The U.S. hasn’t contained COVID-19, but all of these public health precautions have certainly done a number on the flu.

The flu season’s hospitalization rate was just 0.7 per 100,000 people, the lowest rate since 2005, according to the CDC. The agency counted one flu-related pediatric death during the 2020-21 season, compared to 198 the year before.

Christine Porter, a public health expert at the University of Wyoming, says mask-wearing and isolation definitely helped control the flu this season.

But she says it’s important to remember that COVID-19 is considerably more contagious than the flu, since someone who has the coronavirus can infect others by simply breathing. That's why masks are critical in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“The flu does not work that way, so the messages we’re using to prevent coronavirus are way above and beyond what you need to prevent the flu, and therefore it’s almost nonexistent,” Porter said.

She says wearing masks during flu season would be overkill because the flu is mostly spread through droplets that find their way into the nose, eyes and mouth.

“You don’t have to protect people from your breathing, you have to protect them from your sneezes and coughs,” Porter said.

So, if we want next year’s flu season to be more like this past one, Porter offers familiar advice: “Don’t touch your hands to your face, especially your mouth and nose, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home when you’re sick.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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