FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- With many hospitals across the state already at or near capacity, health officials have been concerned that a bad flu season would only add more stress to the healthcare system.
But they say measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID are helping keep flu numbers much lower than in recent years.
"We happen to catch a break, a much-needed break in the midst of COVID-19 being the disease that we really need to focus all our energy on," said Merced County Director of Public Health Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp.
Officials say by early January, California would typically see a significant rise in flu cases, but not this year. Many point to activities such as social distancing and mask-wearing as contributing factors.
"I really think all the different layers of protection that have been introduced for COVID are actually paying dividends in terms of protecting people from influenza," said Fresno County Interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra.
Dr. Rais Vohra says it also appears more people received a flu shot this season.
"I'm not sure if it was the vaccine, the masks or the social distancing or the staying at home. I think it was just a combination of all of that. I think that's one side effect or side benefit of all of the things we asked people to do and influenza rates have come down," Dr. Vohra said.
With the peak of flu season hitting between now and the Spring, officials say it's not too late to get vaccinated.
"Most cases of flu that develop can turn very serious depending on the health of the individual. You also have to remember that flu is most dangerous in people who are elderly and the young and pregnant women," said Nanyonjo-Kemp.
Local health officials say COVID safety measures helped lower flu cases