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Inside the Numbers: We still had a busy flu season at the height of COVID-19

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The Virginia Department of Health reports 1,992 COVID-19 deaths in the Commonwealth as of its latest update today.

Odd factoid that I stumbled upon today while reviewing public health numbers: 1,940.

That’s how many flu and pneumonia deaths VDH is reporting dating back to the week of March 14.

That factoid comes from VDH’s Influenza Surveillance page.

You have to do some math to get to the number.

It’s not like VDH is blaring it out there for the world to see.

You know, “Flu season killing slightly fewer than COVID-19,” that wouldn’t be good for business.

From a review of the data, we continued having our normal busy flu season even once COVID-19 arrived on the scene in mid-March.

VDH reported 118 flu and pneumonia deaths the week of March 14, and the weekly number didn’t drop below triple digits until the week of May 30, and the tally was back up to 100 for the week of June 13, before dipping significantly the past three weeks.

What’s interesting here is, you’d think, at first glance, that all the social distancing that we did back from mid-March to mid-May, before Northam started relaxing the stay-at-home restrictions, would have had an impact on the flu season.

We keep getting high marks for how well we’re doing managing our way through COVID-19 relative to our peers, and rightly so.

Might this portend a more manageable than currently projected 2020-2021 flu season here?

The fear has been that the coming flu season could be devastating if we get another COVID-19 spike corresponding with the height of the normal seasonal flu.

Our review of the data shows that just under half of the deaths in Virginia from the 2019-2020 flu season were recorded during the current COVID-19 season, which didn’t peak until the week of May 2, when there were 180 deaths reported by VDH.

Just based on the data, it might not be as bad this fall and winter as the experts are saying, or to put it another way, whatever the coming fall and winter have to bring, we already have experience dealing with, and everything that we have to bring to bear from a public health perspective to combat competing viruses – in terms of ER, in-patient bed and ICU capacity – has already passed the test.

Story by Chris Graham

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