Precautions taken against COVID 19 have apparently caused a sharp decrease in influenza infections this season.
As people across the country have been urged to wear masks, use hand sanitizer, stay at least six feet from others and avoid crowds, the number of flu cases has taken a nosedive — not a surprise to experts who said early in the season that the measures advocated to protect people from COVID-19 are the same as those to protect people from the flu.
However, while flu cases have dropped dramatically, the large number of COVID-19 cases illustrates just how contagious the disease is, and shows why public health officials are worried that even more contagious variants of the virus could spell more trouble ahead.
Figures compiled from the state’s weekly flu report show no new cases of flu reported in the entire state of Kentucky during the first week of March, the last figures available. There have been just 174 cases of flu in Kentucky over the entire 2020-2021 flu season. Letcher County has had only four cases of flu reported for the season. There have been no deaths here, and only two statewide, both of whom were patients with both flu and COVID.
There were three new cases of COVID-19 in Letcher County on Tuesday alone.
The influenza numbers are down sharply from the 2019-2020 flu season. That season, the state recorded 1,882 cases of flu for the first week of March 2020, and a total of 24,473 cases had been reported for the season up until that week. Eighty-six people had died. In Letcher County, there were 32 cases for the same week in March 2020, and 325 for the season up to that point.
By comparison, Letcher County has reported 1,755 cases of COVID since the pandemic was declared a year ago. According to state figures, 38 people in Letcher County have died from the virus. Statewide, 41,299 people have tested positive for the SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and 5,814 have died.
While flu cases are nearly non-existent this year, the number of COVID-19 cases has begun to plateau as businesses and schools return to some type of normal, but the numbers have remained low for the past three weeks.
The seven-day average incident rate for COVID-19 in Letcher County stood at 5.3 per 100,000 on Tuesday evening, up slightly from the last week, but still well below the numbers in January and February.
While the incident rate has remained low, the number of deaths has increased as earlier deaths that had gone unreported were added to the system. This week, the state reporting system added a 60-year-old man to the list of dead after conducting an audit of death certificates, an 82-year-old man who died January 1, but had not been added to the list, an 85-year-old woman who died December 28, 2020, and a fourth person whose age, gender and date of death were not available.
Meanwhile, the age of people eligible for the vaccine has dropped to 50, and persons of any age who have intellectual and developmental disabilities have added to the list for Phase 1C of vaccinations, which is underway now.
In Letcher County and across the state, residents who are not in the current phase are urged to put themselves on vaccination lists, as sites are seeing more vacant appointments and may call people who would not otherwise be eligible in order to use vaccines that would otherwise be wasted. Pikeville Medical Center this week is expected to have 1,000 vacant appointment times.
Letcher County residents also can receive the vaccine at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital, Mountain
Comprehensive Health Corporation’s clinics, Pine Mountain Pharmacy at Ermine and Walgreens at Jenkins. Persons who want the vaccine should call or go on the websites of those locations to sign up.
The latest statistics for Letcher and the surrounding counties in Kentucky and Wise County and the city of Norton in Virginia are as follows: Knott – Total 1,101 (22 dead, incident rate 3.9); Lee – Total 1,216 (22 dead, incident rate 11.6); Leslie – Total 850 (5 dead, incident rate 10.1); Letcher – Total 1,755 (38 dead, incident rate 5.3); Owsley – Total 462 (11 dead, incident rate 9.7); Perry – Total 2,477 (56 dead, incident rate 11.1); Wolfe – Total 460 (5 dead, incident rate 12.0); Harlan – Total 2,485 (77 dead, 13.2 incident rate ); Pike – Total 5,308 (79 dead, incident rate 7.7); Wise County, Va. – Total 2,951 (153 hospitalized, 92 dead); Norton, Va. – Total 247 (17 hospitalized, 6 dead).