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By Collin Breaux

James Keany, the associate director of the Emergency Department at Mission Hospital, barely saw any flu cases this recent winter season.

“The whole country is green—meaning minimal activity—as far as flu,” Keany said, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The minimal number of flu cases during the COVID-19 pandemic is a drastic decrease compared to past seasons, Keany said. As to why, he mentioned the concept of viral interference—meaning when a new virus takes over, it can potentially block out another virus.

Recommended health guidelines to prevent COVID-19 transmissions could also be halting a flu outbreak.

Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

“The fact that we’re all doing a better job of washing our hands, wearing masks, and social distancing is probably reducing the flu,” Keany said.

Asked how health care professionals can tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19, Keany said COVID-19 has unique symptoms, including a loss of taste and/or smell. Medical professionals usually look for COVID-19 as the first thing wrong in a patient, given it’s the major illness out there, he said.

A specialized swab test that does four tests at once—for influenza A, influenza B, COVID-19, and respiratory viral infections—is also used.

“The main way we tell the difference this way, now, is through testing,” Keany said.

Keany also addressed the recent drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU cases in Orange County. Keany confirmed there has been a sharp decline in cases, adding that other people note conditions seem to be better.

“We’re not getting as many new cases,” Keany said.

However, Keany did note the pandemic still challenges ICU capacity, given an average case can mean an approximate 25-day stay in the ICU, and that long-term care facilities are overwhelmed.

“We have some people that are going to need lung transplants to survive,” he said.

Keany said the stay-at-home order issued for Southern California, which has since been lifted, was a factor in the drop. If everyone wore masks and socially distanced, a stay-at-home order wouldn’t have to be issued—and it takes just a minority of people not following health guidelines to endanger others, he said.

“The more people interact, the more cases we get,” Keany said. “Closing businesses is not what stops COVID. Social distancing is what stops it.”

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at                         

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