COVID-19 precautions keep flu cases historically low in Minnesota

While the world's focus is on COVID-19, those at Hennepin Healthcare’s urgent care in Minneapolis are still testing for the virus that usually dominates these winter months.

"It’s the same swab that we use for the COVID-19 test that we use for influenza, so it's very easy for us to test for both," explained Hennepin Healthcare Urgent Care nurse Lisa Gallick.

But not many tests are coming back positive. The flu, usually peaking around this time, is practically non-existent this year.

"By trying to slow the spread of COVID, you are slowing the spread of influenza and other respiratory diseases," explained Karen Martin, senior epidemiologist for the state of Minnesota. 

Last year, there were more than 4,000 people hospitalized with the flu in Minnesota and around 2,500 the year before that. However, this year there have been only 32 to date.

"I'm looking at the data report that just came out a couple of hours ago and the percent of molecular laboratory tests that are positive for influenza is zero percent," said Martin. "I have never seen anything like this."

Martin says all the safeguards in place for COVID-19 play a major role. But so does the fact that kids haven’t spent much time in school, as children are considered the primary vector of transmission.

But, epidemiologists say with restrictions loosening and people starting to gather again, cases could pick up again. This is why they say the flu shot is still important.