If you doubt the effectiveness of masks, washing hands and social distancing to limit the spread of COVID-19, then look at how those measures have decimated the number of influenza cases in Rock County.

As reporter Ashley McCallum shared in an article this week, the number of flu cases so far is down 85%—from 4,887 in the 2019-20 flu season to 742 this flu season.

The current flu season isn’t over, but an 85% reduction to date is remarkable. Rock County has seen zero hospitalizations for the flu this season. Last season, we had 145.

Health officials nationwide warned this summer about the potential for a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19 that would have been catastrophic to the health care system. That hasn’t happened.

Nick Zupan, county epidemiologist, agreed that COVID-19 precautions are equally effective against the flu.

Although the wearing of masks has become politicized, science and local data show masking and other precautions work.

Something else that probably helped the flu numbers: More people this season have gotten a flu shot. That should give encouragement to Rock County people considering getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many already have.

We’ve had some hiccups in the delivery of vaccine to some local health care organizations, but as of Thursday, 22,757 people in Rock County had received at least one dose of vaccine, and 9,498 had received two doses.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down. There have been 14,194 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Rock County since the pandemic reached the county in March. Of those, 4%, or about 568, have been hospitalized, according to county data.

As of Tuesday, Rock County had 11 people hospitalized for COVID-19, the fewest since Sept. 23.

That led Beloit Health System to loosen its visitors policy, and we understand other local health care providers are considering similar changes next week.

Walworth County on Jan. 25 improved from Phase 1 reopening to Phase 2. Rock County remains in Phase 1, but many of the Rock County indicators have improved from red to yellow to green.

One more encouraging development: The deep freeze that has kept us huddled indoors sharing oxygen is about to break. The forecast calls for a high temperature of 40 degrees Tuesday. That’s shirt-sleeve weather compared to what we’ve been enduring and will invite everyone to get outdoors for some fresh air.

Although such encouraging trends are delivering a sliver of sunshine through the COVID-19 clouds, we aren’t through this yet.

Keep masking. Keeping washing your hands. Keep your distance.

It works. The local flu data is evidence.

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