Arizona experiencing unusually mild flu season amid pandemic
PHOENIX — While COVID-19 cases are spiking in Arizona, the flu season is off to a very slow start.
Only 117 flu cases have been reported statewide, according to the latest state data. This time last year, nearly 2,500 had been reported. The average over five seasons shows about 900 flu cases were reported by now.
Arizona’s former health director isn’t surprised.
“I expect to see a more mild influenza season because of these unique interventions that are happening this year,” Will Humble, who now serves as the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.
It’s more common to see people wearing a face mask in public. More people are also social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
Humble said those same measures that are protecting people from COVID-19 are also protecting people from the flu.
Arizona’s flu season so far appears to be following a national trend. Across the United States, flu activity is lower than usual for this time of year.
Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season, which ended in September, was also unusually mild.
Humble said the low number of flu cases reported in Arizona so far could also be due to more people getting the flu shot this year.
In September, the Arizona Department of Health Services rolled out the “Roll Up Your Sleeve” campaign in hopes of increasing flu vaccinations. It encouraged people — especially health care workers, families with young children, college students and vulnerable adults — to get the flu shot as soon as possible.
State leaders advocating for the campaign worried the flu and COVID-19 would overwhelm hospitals.
Humble said he expects COVID-19, rather than the flu, will overwhelm hospitals given that this year’s flu season will likely be mild.
He added the low number of flu cases so far shows how effective measures, like wearing a mask, can be.
“Once this season is over and COVID-19 is behind us, we’ll have an opportunity to look back at this and recognize perhaps that it might be a good idea to wear a mask while you’re in public every year, even when COVID-19 is a sporadic illness,” he said.