FACT CHECK: Viral Post Makes Inaccurate Claim About The 2020-2021 Flu Season And COVID-19

Hannah Hudnall | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook claims flu cases being labeled as COVID-19 cases was the reason for low flu activity during the 2020-2021 flu season.

Verdict: False

Though flu activity was very low during the 2020-2021 flu season, it was not because flu cases were being miscounted as COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to COVID-19 mitigation measures and flu vaccination as the likely cause of the low flu activity.

Fact Check:

The Dec. 28 post, which has garnered over 300 reactions, alleges, “The flu didn’t take off last year. It was called Covid.” It also quotes a line – “The U.S. flu season has arrived on schedule after taking a year off” – from a Dec. 27 Associated Press article, but that article does not claim at any point that flu cases were being mislabeled as COVID-19 cases.

Flu activity was, according to the CDC, “unusually low” in the U.S. during the 2020-2021 flu season, but it was not due to flu cases being counted as COVID-19 cases. The CDC explains on its website that “COVID-19 mitigation measures such as wearing face masks, staying home, hand washing, school closures, reduced travel, increased ventilation of indoor spaces, and physical distancing, likely contributed to the decline in 2020-2021 flu incidence, hospitalizations and deaths,” as well as flu vaccination.

Dr. Ranjani Kaylan, the medical director of infection control at Sutter Roseville Medical Center, also pointed to the flu vaccine and COVID-19 mitigation measures as contributing to the mild 2020-2021 flu season, according to an article published by Sutter Health. Other fact-checking outlets such as Reuters, AFP, Verify and Factcheck.org have debunked similar claims about flu deaths or flu cases being counted as such for COVID-19.

Cases of influenza have been detected in the U.S. during the current 2021-2022 flu season. The CDC states on its website that “influenza activity is increasing, with the eastern and central parts of the country seeing the largest increases and the western part of the country reporting lower levels of influenza virus circulation.” (RELATED: Did The Flu Kill 80,000 People In The US In 2019?)

The CDC reported 1,265 patients in the U.S. were admitted to the hospital with influenza in the week ending Dec. 18 alone. Between Oct. 3 and Dec. 18, clinical laboratories recorded over 13,000 specimens positive for flu and public health laboratories recorded over 4,300, according to the CDC’s weekly influenza surveillance report.

Lynette Brammer, who leads the CDC’s domestic influenza surveillance team, said, “This is setting itself up to be more of a normal flu season,” the Associated Press reported Dec. 27. The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine, covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands frequently and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth to prevent catching the flu.

Hannah Hudnall

Fact Check Reporter