Flu season sees only 1 death amid coronavirus precautions

  • This year’s flu season has been virtually wiped out amid COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions. (MetroCreative Connection/Special to West Hawaii Today)

HONOLULU — This year’s flu season has been virtually wiped out amid COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions.

While several hundred Hawaii residents typically die every year from the flu, there has only been one death this season, an adult over the age of 80 who died in October, according to the state Department of Health.

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“The flu season in 2020 basically never came,” said Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist.

Since the pandemic hit over a year ago, large numbers of residents have been working from home, businesses have closed and students have been engaged in more online learning. This, coupled with safety measures including wearing masks, social distancing and hand-washing, has largely stamped out the flu’s spread in Hawaii, as it has in many states.

Nationally, there were only about 600 flu-related deaths during the 2020-2021 flu season, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, the flu has killed about 12,000 to 61,000 people a year since 2010.

While the flu has largely disappeared since the pandemic hit, the coronavirus still managed to spread throughout Hawaii, so far killing about 500 residents — a figure that surely would have been much higher if the state hadn’t enacted restrictions to limit gatherings and residents hadn’t widely adopted mask and distancing requirements.

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“It does appear that COVID is more contagious than the flu,” said Kemble. “And that is part of the reason why, even with all of those precautions, it’s harder to stamp out, whereas the flu actually seems to be pretty responsive to those measures.”

In most cases people die of the flu after it progresses to pneumonia, which also kills COVID-19 patients.

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