During an in-person press conference at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Downtown L.A. office on Thursday, Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer spoke in front of a graph of Australian influenza data.
The data, Ferrer said, could be an indication that flu season may start earlier this year due to lack of immunity, outside of vaccination, partly caused by precautions taken against COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.
Precautions against COVID-19, such as masking and social distancing, also protected residents from the flu, but as masking and other restrictions are being lifted, this could mean the flu is making a hard comeback — especially during the winter months.
“Some scientists are concerned that the low rate of influenza infection during the past few years gave people less chance to develop immunity outside of vaccination,” said Ferrer. “This could mean that there’s a larger pool of people, especially children, who may be susceptible to influenza this season.”
Ferrer noted this trend in Australia’s data is used, as is data from other southern-hemisphere countries, to look for trends since their winter is our summer and vice versa.
The Health Department said it was expecting to see flu cases increase and appear earlier than usual. Studies suggest that virus traveling via aerosol transmission can travel farther during cold temperatures and that more families will be gathering indoors for the holidays than in years past.
This could also mean an increase in COVID-19 cases, which is also more easily spread under these conditions. Currently, cases (1,280 per day) and hospitalizations (76 per day) have fallen 11% and 21%, respectively, in the past week.
Deaths, however, have not fallen, and remain at 11 to 14 per day, the same as they were mid-summer. A total of 5,500 L.A. County residents have died from COVID-19 this year, an average of 135 per week.
“Many of our deaths continue to be among older adults and those in fragile health,” said Ferrer. “We send our deepest condolences and wishes for health and peace to those mourning the loss of a loved one.”
Public Health officials said that while the county is in for an unpredictable winter, the precautions and measures taken to avoid COVID-19 can also apply to the flu, including being vaccinated, wearing a mask indoors or in large groups, especially if you’re in a high-risk demographic, and social distancing.