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Now “Experts” Suggest To Ditch the Masks – and Report Flu Hospitalizations Down 98%!

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EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): What a difference a few weeks (and a new president!) make… Suddenly we are flooded with some interesting news.  First, the LA Times comes out with a story titled “How to prevent coronavirus: Wash your hands and ditch the mask”, reproduced all over the media.  At the same time the “Business Insider” conveniently informs us that the US has seen a 98% drop in flu hospitalizations!! Is it because hospitals report all flu incidences as covid-19 or is it because the “novel” virus eliminates one way or the other occurrences of the regular flu?

Whatever the case, suddenly things that were assumed “essential truths” just days ago are now demolished… At the same time, the new CDC director appointed by Biden urges in a very public statement re-opening of the schools because of “science”… But the teacher’s unions hold millions of children hostage and prefer to be as lazy as they always were… 

BOTH STORIES BELOW AS REPRODUCED FROM YAHOO NEWS

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How to prevent coronavirus: Wash your hands and ditch the mask

(SOURCE: LATIMES)

Drugstores have reported skyrocketing demand, and several of Amazon’s top sellers are indefinitely out of stock. Shortages of surgical face masks are a visible sign that the novel coronavirus from China has reached the United States.

But health experts warn that stocking up on the disposable masks could do more harm than good by limiting their availability to doctors and nurses. If the coronavirus outbreak should cause a run on anything, they say, it should be soap and water instead.

“Fear spreads a lot faster than the virus,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease expert at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. “A mask makes you feel better, but you’re missing the more important protective measures.”

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Hong Kong subway passengers wear surgical masks during the coronavirus outbreak. (Associated Press)

There are good reasons to wear masks — namely, to protect others. Surgeons use them so they don’t cough or sneeze into open wounds. Emergency room staff hand them out to visitors with respiratory symptoms to protect others in the waiting area. Doctors diligently swap their masks between visits with immune-suppressed patients, to avoid exposing them to clinging pathogens.

If you’re already sick, mask-wearing is good practice. Donning a paper mask on a crowded train or bus, for instance, can minimize the degree to which a cough or sneeze disseminates infectious fluid onto neighbors and handrails that will be grabbed throughout the day.

But for everyone else, the masks are simply “unnecessary,” said Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In fact, if the mask-hoarding continues, officials worry there could be a shortage, affecting clinics and hospitals where they’re needed most. N-95 respirator masks, for example, use a more sophisticated filter to protect health workers doing riskier procedures like intubations, Klausner said, but they’re currently a hot item among the public. (Such masks are likely stored up in the Strategic National Stockpile in case commercial supplies are depleted, though officials won’t divulge details for security reasons).

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A worker checks the quality of face masks at a production facility in India. (Sam Panthaky/AFP via Getty Images)

Experts agree that, for viral infections including the common cold and the flu, the most effective way to protect yourself is regular hand-washing with warm water and soap, plus the vigilance to resist touching your nose and mouth.

To wash your hands properly, the World Health Organization suggests scrubbing your palms with a large dollop of soap before interlacing and clasping the fingers, then scrubbing around the thumbs and the backs of your hands. The whole process should take 40 to 60 seconds.

These hygiene practices apply no more to the coronavirus than to other common winter illnesses, such as colds and the flu.

Indeed, for nearly all Americans, the flu presents a far greater health risk than the new coronavirus. Unless you’ve traveled to China in the last 14 days, or spent time in close proximity to a patient with coronavirus symptoms, the risk of contracting 2019-nCoV remains low.

Meanwhile, 19 million to 26 million Americans have been infected with influenza since Oct. 1, 2019, and 10,000 to 25,000 of them have died from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emily Baumgaertner

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A man washes his hands outside Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong. Surgical masks are selling out in stores, but thorough handwashing is the best way to protect against the new coronavirus, experts say. (Anthony Wallace / AFP via Getty Images)

 

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Fears of a ‘twindemic’ are over: The US has seen a 98% drop in flu hospitalizations, likely due to COVID-19 measures

By Aulin Woodward (Business Insider)
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An advertisement offering free flu shots in New York City on August 21, 2020. 
John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Public-health experts prepared for a “twindemic” as fall approached last year: a double threat of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu.

But even as cold, dry weather descended on the Northern Hemisphere and COVID-19 cases surged, the US and UK have experienced historically mild flu seasons.

Between October 1 and January 30, just 155 Americans were hospitalized with the flu, compared to 8,633 during roughly the same time frame a year ago. That’s a 98% decrease. Labs in the US have collected and tested more than half a million samples for the flu since late September, but just 0.2% of those samples tested positive (1,300 in total), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Every US state is experiencing “minimal” flu activity, the agency reported. That’s in contrast from last season, when 22,000 Americans died of the flu.

A likely driver of the unusually low infection and hospitalization rates is COVID-19. Measures meant to slow or prevent the coronavirus’ spread have also stopped other pathogens like influenza, according to Sonja Olsen, a CDC epidemiologist at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“Measures including extensive reductions in global travel, teleworking, school closures, social distancing, and face mask use may have played a role,” she told Insider. Olsen noted, however, that it’s challenging to tease out precisely which of those measures mattered most for flu prevention.

‘I don’t think anybody anticipated a season where there was no flu’

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Des and Adele Morrow wait in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the Lakes Regional Library in Fort Myers, Florida, on December 30, 2020. 
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Across the globe, influenza activity is at lower levels than expected for this time of the year, according to the World Health Organization. Since the start of the pandemic, the Southern Hemisphere has had “virtually no influenza circulation,” the CDC reported.

That’s despite increased testing for flu in some countries, according to Olsen.

“There is some influenza circulating in tropical countries, but in these countries it appears that the season is blunted compared to other years,” she said.

David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell Health and a professor of medicine at Hofstra University, told Insider that experts had always “hoped that social distancing, masking, and more hand hygiene would mitigate the flu.”

“But I don’t think anybody anticipated a season where there was no flu,” he said, adding, “nobody’s seen it on the whole planet.”

Flu season usually peaks in February, so it’s likely the US is in the clear, but Battinelli warned it’s too soon for a sigh of relief.

“Flu seasons can extend certainly into March,” he said. In the last 40 years, six flu seasons peaked in March, according to the CDC.

Why coronavirus restrictions worked so well against the flu

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Academics study in socially distanced reading rooms at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, England, on August 25, 2020. 
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Influenza doesn’t spread as well as the coronavirus. The average number of people one person with the flu infects — a measure known as the reproductive number — is 1.28. Typically, someone sick with the coronavirus passes it onto between 2 and 2.5 people. In part, this difference is because the coronavirus can be airborne, remaining suspended in the air for hours. That’s not true of the flu, though viruses can jump from person to person via respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces.

The coronavirus’ higher reproductive number “means it is more challenging to prevent transmission through non-pharmaceutical interventions than it is for influenza,” Olsen said.

What’s more, existing immunity in the population — whether from previous infections or vaccinations — can also boost the effects of public-health measures like masking, resulting in a more dramatic reduction in transmission, Olsen said.

The flu vaccine has been around for more than 75 years. Vaccine manufacturers projected that they will supply the US with as many as 194 to 198 million doses of influenza vaccine for the 2020-2021 season, according to Olsen.

“Contrast this against a novel coronavirus, to which nearly the entire population is susceptible,” she said.

Research also shows that superspreader events — a circumstance in which one person infects a disproportionately large number of others —are the primary way the coronavirus spreads, unlike the flu.

Decreased travel played a larger preventative role than flu shots

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A nurse administers a flu shot. 
zoranm/Getty Images

CDC data suggests US pharmacies and physicians’ offices administered more flu vaccines to Americans this season than the one prior, when Americans got 174.5 million doses. That increase came after public-health experts pushed people to get flu shots; some research suggested the shot could reduce the risk of getting COVID-19.

But Olsen said it’s unlikely the extra vaccinations were the reason for low flu case counts globally.

“While some places in the world are using more vaccine, this is not universally true,” Olsen said. “We have seen less influenza circulation even in places that do not use, or use very little, vaccine.”

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A flight attendant and traveler wear face masks as they fly from Istanbul to Ankara, Turkey. 
Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Both Olsen and Battinelli think a drop in travel did play a significant role, however.

“The traditional movement of flu around the globe hasn’t occurred,” Battinelli said.

Typically, the flu gets ferried from the Southern Hemisphere, which has its flu season between April and September, to the North Hemisphere in the fall. But travel bans and limited air travel mostly stopped that spread.

‘We would expect influenza to return at some point’

Experts don’t think a non-existent flu season will become a regular occurrence, and a study from Cambodia suggests that influenza will start circulating if pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.

“We would expect influenza to return at some point,” Olsen said.

Still, the emergence of more transmissible coronavirus variants and the slow pace of global vaccinations may mean the pandemic will extend into 2022, necessitating another year of rigorous masking and social distancing. If that’s the case, Battinelli thinks next year’s flu season will be similarly mild.

To him, the takeaway from this unprecedented season is that Americans have the ability to actively limit flu transmission — and prevent tens of thousands of flu deaths — by masking up, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene.

“This is a wake-up call that we shouldn’t be tolerating that many deaths,” Battinelli said.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I really must protest this ignorant american madness re masks, hand washing and distancing. As if it’s some how related to politics or manliness. STUPIDITY!
    I am a senior nurse and psychologist of over 30 yrs and I can tell you masks are one of best ways ( if worn properly and not continually touched etc) to cut down infection, ANY AIR BORN INFECTION. And distancing and hand washing.
    Flu levels have fallen exactly because of this. Just go to any Asian country any winter.
    Vaccines, along with antibiotic use and hygene have been the biggest savers of human, and especially Childrens’ lives.
    I refuse to engaged further with PREJUDICE and stupidity. Such as those who deny hospitals faced a crisis.
    I have lost friends and colleagues to Covid. I hold you in total total contempt. Especially those entering church unmasked etc. I am practising Orthodox believer
    By the way Covid is diagnosed not by test but by the clinical presentation and scan lung picture. It’s very particular scan picture.
    Now run along and go study some basic medicine..

    • 1. If we keep using these cheap cotton masks (and not the N95) the way they are commonly used (carelessly as if they were a special type of …earrings) and if we touch them and reuse them at will, at the same time as we have difficulty breathing through them, then they are mostly useless. Not only useless but they cause more damage than good. They may certainly useful for those diagnosed or suspecting the disease.
      2. We have seen many reports (especially recently) either of false-positive tests or of misreporting of covid from hospitals.
      3. I am sure you will agree that wearing a mask is faced with such a deep detestation for a reason. How many times being in church as the good practicing Orthodox Christian that you are, you did NOT recognize your friends because they were wearing a mask… A human face has a central value not only in Judeo-Christian civilization – and generally in western civilization. How big is such importance? It is huge – and we all can feel it when we see Muslim women walking in NYC streets wearing their partial or full-face covers (“niqab” or “burka”)… Don’t we feel culturally insulted by this? Most of us do… Because in our western civilization seeing each other’s face is synonymous with being human…

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