HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The just-concluded flu season was one of the mildest on record in Pennsylvania, health officials reported Friday, with COVID-19 precautions like masking and social distancing credited with helping to prevent the spread of the influenza virus as well as the novel coronavirus.
Through last week, Pennsylvania reported 3,664 confirmed cases in the 2020-21 flu season, down 97% from nearly 131,000 cases the previous year, when flu circulated widely. There were 45 hospitalizations and 21 flu-related deaths.
It was the lowest case count since the 2011-2012 season, when only 2,534 cases were reported.
The Department of Health said measures people took to keep themselves safe from COVID-19 also worked to ward off the flu, since both viruses spread the same way.
Health officials also cited the record number of flu vaccine doses distributed nationally — about 194 million — for keeping the state's numbers down. Flu cases were unusually low throughout the U.S. this year despite a big increase in testing.
Ray Barishansky, a deputy secretary in the Health Department, said at a news conference Friday that people should consider wearing masks and social distancing in certain situations as a way to keep the flu and other infectious respiratory diseases at bay in the future.
The department said later that while masking is a “powerful tool to prevent all the respiratory infections ... it is too soon for the DOH to decide if masks will be recommended for solely flu prevention.” A spokesperson said that flu vaccination will remain “the golden standard” for preventing flu.