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Experts attribute record-low flu cases, deaths to COVID protocols

Cuyahoga County reports one flu-related death
Flu sick
Posted at 4:54 PM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 18:23:01-04

CLEVELAND — While much of the focus continues to be on the coronavirus and vaccinating Ohio, the end of the flu season is upon us.

Data provided by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health shows 2,081 flu-related hospitalizations in the county in 2019-2020. In the 2020-2021 season, data analysts recorded only six flu-related hospitalizations.

As far as deaths, Cuyahoga County Board of Health data analyst Richard Stacklin told News 5 the county averaged about 27 deaths a year from 2015-2020. In the 2020-2021 influenza season, his team reported one death.

“You won’t believe the number of times I reran the data just to make sure I was doing it correctly,” Stacklin said. “I kept thinking early on that I was doing something wrong. I called the state and national coordinators and they said ‘no, this is what we’re seeing.’”

Flu Season
A statewide chart from the Ohio Department of Health shows the average number of hospitalizations over the past five years, compared to the number of hospitalizations from the 2020-2021 influenza season, which ran from September-May.

In Summit County, experts noticed a similar sharp decline.

“Last year we had about 6,500 positive results [for the flu],” Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said. “This year we had three.”

Quite the drop, given the CDC reports anywhere from 12,000-61,000 people die nationwide every year from the flu.

“When you look at the numbers, it absolutely makes you think ‘what happened,’” Skoda added.

Experts point to mask-wearing, social distancing, the lack of travel and other pandemic precautions in place as some of the reasons behind the record low infections.

“Kids were not in school in the same way they had been in the past,” Stacklin added. “Kids were a great way to transmit illness to themselves, but also to their loved ones and adults and grandparents who suffered the most.”

New numbers from the CDC also show nearly 194 million doses of the flu vaccine were administered in the United States during this influenza season, a record for a single season.

FluVaccine.jpg
Chart showing the number of flu vaccines distributed in the U.S. each flu season.

“Influenza is an airborne disease,” Skoda said. “When people stay away from each other, wear a mask, don’t cough on each other, you don’t have much opportunity to infect everyone.”

Going forward, experts said lack of immunity from the flu and lingering pandemic practices will try to tug flu data in opposite directions, making the next flu season difficult to predict.

“Those things people were very vigilant about these last 18 months, I hope they consider in the future. because it did help save lives,” Stacklin said.

For more information and data from the Ohio Department of Health concerning the recent flu season, click here.