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Mask wearing and social distancing for COVID-19 may be slowing influenza spread

Flu season never came to the Southern Hemisphere — a sign that COVID-19 measures might be helping.

Two women wearing face masks pull their suitcases outside Lisbon’s airport, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Two women wearing face masks pull their suitcases outside Lisbon’s airport, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.
Armando Franca, Associated Press

Evidence continues to mount that the measures taken to defeat COVID-19 might be cutting cases of influenza across the world.

What’s going on?

Researchers recently told Scientific American that the coronavirus measures — continued hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing — are slowing the spread of the flu.

  • “The belief is this was the result of wearing masks, more frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and less large gatherings,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association told Salon. “Influenza and the common cold are diseases spread person to person in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. So, efforts to reduce COVID-19 have the dual benefit of reducing colds and flu.”
  • Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re killing off the flu. Experts still recommend flu shots because the flu and COVID-19 remain major threats.

Evidence in the Southern Hemisphere

Countries across the Southern Hemisphere — like Australia, New Zealand, as well as countries in South America — reported lower cases of influenza because of the COVID-19 lockdown, as I wrote about Deseret.com.

  • “Never in my 40-year career have we ever seen rates ... so low,” Greg Poland, an influenza expert at the Mayo Clinic, told Scientific American.
  • This has offered “a glimmer of hope as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere,” according to The Guardian.