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With state residents already masked-up and driven indoors by the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania notched one of its “mildest” flu seasons on record in 2020-21, a senior state Health Department official said Friday. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw caution — or masks — to the wind.
The state charted 3,664 laboratory-confirmed flu cases and 21 flu-associated deaths statewide through May 22, the official end of flu season, Ray Barishansky, the Health Department’s deputy secretary of health preparedness and community protection, said during a Friday briefing.
That flu tally, which came even as the state fought the COVID-19 pandemic, is on pace, with the 2015-2016 season, when the H1N1 flu virus predominated, Barishansky said. The state saw 139,000 flu cases in 2019-20, the agency said in a statement. The 2020-21 case count is a 95 percent decrease from the year before, the Health Department noted.
“The low flu activity is testament, in part, to COVID-19 mitigation measures since the two illnesses spread the same way,” Barishansky told journalists on Friday.
Given those low numbers and the success of the state’s mask mandate, Barashasky said he could not “speak to whether [the deparment] would mandate mask wearing for future flu seasons.”
The Health Department confirmed 1,067 new cases of COVID-19 as of midday on Friday, bringing the statewide total to 1.2 million cases since the beginning the pandemic last year. A total of 1,152 people were hospitalized statewide. Of that number, 289 people were in intensive care units statewide, the Health Department said.
Health officials also confirmed 24 new fatalities, bringing the statewide total to 27,187 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Pennsylvania is set to lift its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, though masking requirements will stay in place until June 28, when the state is expected to fully vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population.
“While we are highlighting the below average flu activity, we must remember to take similar proven public health measures like washing hands frequently, keeping physical distance and even wearing a mask to minimize the spread of infectious respiratory diseases,” Barishansky said. “Though the flu season is over, let’s continue to do our part to stop the spread of flu and COVID-19.”
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