Hamodia has joined the rest of the media world in presenting an article on the unusual lack of influenza this winter (Prime, Feb. 10). After dire warnings by experts who predicted a devastating “double epidemic” of COVID-19 and influenza, the flu is almost nowhere to be seen. Other seasonal respiratory viruses like RSV are also much less prevalent. Last year, the CDC estimated that 38 million people in the U.S. contracted the flu. Remarkably, as of February 4, the CDC reported only 1,500 positive flu samples.
As a pediatrician with a background in epidemiology, I have observed with fascination the unfolding of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent absence of the flu. Much of what is presented in scientific and media reports is simply theory, not fact. Each theory must be evaluated based on its scientific and logical merits. Regarding the absence of flu this year, I find the explanations ranging from foolish to absurd. For example, if masks and social distancing are the reason, then why did rates of COVID-19 infection skyrocket? Why has California, despite its stricter quarantine, suffered more than other states? How could a minimal increase in flu vaccination rates completely prevent an outbreak?
Due to arrogant thinking, the world has attributed the absence of flu to successful public health measures. “The world has tamed the flu,” proclaimed one publication. This attitude blinds experts from perceiving the truth: we understand very little. Perhaps if the number of positive flu samples had been 0 instead of 1,500 they would proclaim this “an act of G-d.” But Hashem hides Himself in nature, thus leaving the experts to fall back on their explanations. We Yidden, on the other hand, are “maaminim bnei maaminim,” and should know better. Rather than repeat ideas from the secular media, we should praise the Ribbono shel Olam daily for sparing us the additional suffering that flu could have brought upon us this winter.
Gavriel Joffe, M.D., M.P.H.; Monsey, NY
Mrs. Grunfeld responds:
Thank you for a powerful letter, which helps reorient us as we watch the staggering events of this year unfold. There is an inherent assumption here that Hamodia readers filter all news stories big and small through the lens of Divine influence. As such, it seemed fitting to explore the “scientific” explanations for the absence of the flu, even if, in this case, the explanations are scanty at best. The goal here was to dig around for all the reported explanations for why flu rates are so astonishingly low. As with all world events and phenomena, our flawed attempts at rational analysis look paltry and inadequate when held up against the dazzling backdrop of Yad Hashem, whether the facts and figures line up or not.