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A side-benefit to health restrictions brought on by COVID-19? A drop in other viruses that go around

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Posted at 2:20 PM, Aug 24, 2020

MURRAY, Utah — Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare are noticing an interesting trend as a result of stricter health guidelines brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other viruses aren't spreading through the community like they usually do.

"That’s a secondary benefit to mask wearing," said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare. "It actually raises our awareness of behaviors that can protect us and others from all kinds of infections."

When COVID-19 first arrived in Utah in mid-March, Dr. Webb said they noticed influenza drop abruptly.

"Much earlier than it normally does," he told FOX 13.

As people adopt recommendations for physical distancing (staying at least 6-feet from others), frequent hand-washing and, of course, wearing face masks, Dr. Webb said they've noted other viruses haven't been as prevalent. Especially ones that are contracted and spread by children.

"In addition to less influenza, which is the most common of the late-winter respiratory viruses, we did see a decrease in the pneumovirus family, which includes RSV and some of the croup viruses," he said.

Doctors will be watching as students head back to the classroom to see how COVID-19 and other viruses adapt or if they spread as much. During a legislative hearing on back to school plans last week, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn told lawmakers that while they don't know a lot about COVID-19 and children -- they do know that children can spread viruses throughout a community because they bring it and take it away from schools.

"We do expect there may be decreased transmission in the pediatric populations because they are wearing masks in school which is the place where they come into contact with others the most frequently. We don’t know to what degree to expect, but we do think it’s quite possible we’ll see like we did late winter and spring, decreased viral transmission," Dr. Webb told FOX 13.

To help block community spread, Governor Gary Herbert has mandated face coverings in all school facilities. It's prompted some push back. Over the weekend, hundreds protested in Orem against the governor's mandate and demanded it be voluntary.

The governor's office refused.

"Mask wearing is tremendously important to keeping teachers and students healthy. We have no plans to make it voluntary at this time," his office said in a statement to FOX 13.

Dr. Webb said they will be gathering data to watch year over year to see how much of an impact the health guidelines for COVID impact other viruses in the community, but he urged people to continue to practice physical distancing, good hygiene and wearing face coverings.

"As we head into cold and flu season we’re actually expecting to learn quite a bit more about how this new social experiment, if you will, may impact the transmission of other respiratory viruses," he said.