Speed Reads

Silver linings and touches of gray

There has been essentially no flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 coronavirus has brutalized the U.S. over the past 12 months, killing half a million people and leaving millions more with lingering or little-understood aftereffects. The seasonal flu, on the other hand ... hasn't. February is typically the peak of flu season in the U.S., but "this is the lowest flu season we've had on record," dating back at least 25 years, Lynette Brammer, who oversees flu tracking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tells The Associated Press.

Experts aren't quite sure why flu cases just haven't materialized in any significant number this year, though they have theories: anti-COVID measures like mask-wearing and social distancing have prevented flu transmission, the coronavirus has somehow muscled aside flu strains, a jump in flu vaccinations in the fall and winter, and virtual schooling, to name a few.

"Many parents will tell you that this year their kids have been as healthy as they've ever been, because they're not swimming in the germ pool at school or day care the same way they were in prior years," Dr. Nate Mick, head of the emergency department at Maine Medical Center in Portland, tells AP. In recent years, the flu has hospitalized 600,000-800,000 Americans a year and been blamed for 50,000 to 60,000 deaths. Mick said he has "seen zero documented flu cases this winter." Other countries have reported similar flu droughts.

Some experts are concerned about what the flu (and the common cold) will be like when it emerges again — the lack of flu cases leaves them with little data — but for now, the lack of influenza is a rare silver lining in the gray fog of the COVID-19 pandemic.