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How does COVID-19 compare with the flu?

I have two questions concerning COVID-19. It seems that some people still believe COVID-19 is no more deadly than influenza. As of Nov. 16, 10 people had died from COVID-19 in Jackson County. How many people died from influenza last year in Jackson County? Secondly, when the Mail Tribune reports that there were 46,897 negative tests (as of Nov. 16) in Jackson County, are these negative tests or negative people? For example, if someone is tested twice, and both tests are negative, does that count as two tests or just one person?

— Bill F., Medford

We reached out to Jackson County Public Health to help with your question, Bill, and Tanya Phillips, the county’s health promotion program manager, responded with all kinds of helpful information.

Regarding how COVID-19 compares to influenza, Phillips explained that unlike the novel coronavirus, the flu is not a reportable disease.

“Therefore,” she said, “when a person has a positive flu test or they die from the flu, this is not reportable to the local public health authority or to the Oregon Health Authority. The only time flu is reportable to the local public health authority or Oregon Health Authority is if there is a pediatric flu death.”

Phillips went on to explain that according to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 22,000 people in the United States died from the flu during the 2019-20 flu season, while 248,000 have died from COVID-19 so far this year. Looking closer at the two illnesses reveals still more differences worth noting, Phillips added.

“COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people,” she said. “It can also take longer before people show symptoms, and people can be contagious for longer. Also, COVID-19 can produce long-lasting disease manifestations, the so-called ‘long haulers,’ and we are still learning all the serious long-lasting effects of the disease.”

Regarding the testing figures, Phillips said that the number of COVID-19 tests the Oregon Health Authority and Jackson County report is based on the number of people who have tested positive or negative, not the number of actual tests administered.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.