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By staying at home and following social distancing guidelines, Mainers appear to have slowed the spread of more than one respiratory virus.
Growth in the numbers of diagnosed influenza cases and flu-related hospitalizations has slowed substantially since mid-March, when Gov. Janet Mills started implementing bans on large gatherings and dine-in service at bars and restaurants and public health authorities recommended physical distancing.
By the start of April, Mills had also ordered nonessential businesses closed, implemented a statewide stay-at-home order and limited numbers of customers allowed at one time in businesses that remained open.
The number of flu diagnoses in Maine increased by 184 in the three weeks following the third week of March, when most of the social distancing policies began in the state. A year ago, the number of flu cases grew by 1,812 during that same period, according to weekly flu surveillance reports published by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maine has still seen more flu cases overall this year than last year. But the number of flu-related hospitalizations has dropped noticeably.
Some 514 people have been hospitalized due to the flu since the start of the flu season, and 40 have died. At the same point last year, 973 people had been hospitalized with flu-like illnesses, and 42 people had died.
“What those data suggest is that by staying inside and abiding by Gov. Mills’ recommendations and rules, we’ve not only gotten a hold of COVID-19, but we’ve also dropped the number of influenza cases as well,” Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said in a press briefing on Monday.
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The precautionary measures and recommendations in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus — frequent hand-washing, the use of face coverings while in public and physical distancing — are also effective in controlling the spread of the flu.
Earlier this winter, Maine was on track to have a more serious flu season compared with 2019. In the first week January 2020, the number of flu cases was more than double the number a year earlier. There were almost 1,300 flu cases recorded at that point, compared with 510 a year earlier. Ninety people had been hospitalized because of the flu at that point in January 2020, compared with 53 a year earlier.
The trajectory of the flu season this year matches nationwide data showing a sharp drop in the number of fevers due to any illness since states began ordering residents to stay at home and many businesses to close.
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