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Early measures to stop COVID-19 also appear to have stopped flu season

While the flu season lasts into May, in many ways it was effectively over by early April this year as measures were taken to stop the coronavirus.

ATLANTA — We’ve been tracking COVID-19 numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, and as we continue to look at the numbers, we're noticing something interesting - flu numbers dropped off dramatically.

It begs us to ask the question: did coronavirus restrictions wipe out the end of flu season?

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It all started when we saw this tweet from a clinician at Emory Healthcare that says “anecdotal report that cases of flu went to nothing this year supposedly due to social distancing and facemasks”

Dr. Carlos Del Rio, a leading expert at Emory University, responded with this article – which says before coronavirus, we were on track to have one of the most severe flu seasons in decades. But, thanks to stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and masks – the flu season was cut weeks short.

Dr. Del Rio said he thinks the article is "totally true."

Crunching the numbers in Georgia, by logging all the flu reports since the beginning of the year, showed that the flu was widespread - up until about April.

It was an incredibly steep drop from there.

"Down to nothing right?" Dr. Del Rio said.

Yes, literally zero.

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According to Georgia Department of Public Health figures, by the beginning of April, flu outbreaks were down to zero. By the time we hit May, flu hospitalization and deaths were, too.

Dr. Del Rio said the end of the flu season was basically wiped out.

"I think there is no doubt about that. I think they were a very effective medicine to slow coronavirus and wipe out the flu," he said.

An unintended consequence with a positive outcome – but still not exactly a reason to celebrate.

"Whatever was saved was rapidly overtaken by the coronavirus," Dr. Del Rio said. "I think the number of deaths we’ve seen from coronavirus far outweighs even the worst of all seasons."

He’s right. The numbers show here in Georgia, more than 2,600 deaths are linked to COVID-19, while 94 are because of flu.

But Dr. Del Rio said knowing this could help us turn around flu seasons in the future.

All in all, the measures to curb the coronavirus also wound up cutting our flu season short by about six weeks.


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