Respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, pneumonia and bronchitis all recovered after Texas made the controversial decision to lift its mask mandate and reopen a majority of businesses at full capacity earlier this year.
While there was no increase in COVID-19 cases following Government Leader Greg Abott’s decision in March 2021, other viruses that declined as people began to mask themselves returned.
Researchers at Houston Methodist Hospital found that rhinovirus — the most common infection in humans — and enterovirus — which causes cold-like symptoms — have both started to return to normal after severe declines during the pandemic.
Cases of a common form of the flu increased by 424 percent.
Health experts attribute the sharp declines in the virus and associated symptoms to people wearing masks and social distancing to prevent their contagious spread.
Texas was one of the first states to lift all COVID-19 restrictions when they did so in early March. Weekly cases have since fallen by 60 percent, although other respiratory illnesses that saw a sharp decline in 2020 appear to have made a comeback
After sharp declines at the start of the pandemic, cases of rhinovirus and enterovirus began to increase as Texas slowly reopened, peaking when all mandates were lifted.
Annual flu cases fell to all-time lows last flu season, but are now rising as mandates roll back
“This sharp resurgence of seasonal respiratory viruses in Houston is not surprising now that mask mandates in Texas have been lifted and other precautions, such as social distancing and occupancy limits at stores, restaurants and events, have been removed,” Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital, said in a statement.
For the study, published on pre-print server medRxiv.org, the team looked at data on respiratory pathogens in Houston.
They found that around the time the mask mandate was lifted, capacity limits for restaurants and bars were relaxed, corresponding to a rise in virus cases.
The results showed that the number of rhinovirus and enterovirus cases increased by 85 percent from March to April, the first month with no mask requirements in the state.
Seasonal coronaviruses, which cause the common cold and usually appear in winter, rose 211 percent over the same period.
But the most notable increase was in the proportion of parafluenza, a common virus that causes respiratory illness, which peaked at 424 percent in Houston from March to April.
Parafluenza cases surged more than 400% when Texas lifted masking and social distancing requirements in March
The number of parafluenza cases subsequently increased by 189 percent from April to May.
“For over a year, COVID-19 has been the primary cause of respiratory disease in the US, but as we ease restrictions, it is important for clinicians to consider that other respiratory pathogens may be causing spikes in disease beyond their usual seasonal peaks,” said Long.
‘Reports of non-COVID respiratory viral illnesses increasing after COVID restrictions are lifted have been reported in Australia and elsewhere, and we are now starting to see it happen in the US’
Influenza cases decreased by 99 percent during the pandemic according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From September 2020 to January 2021, only 1,316 cases were recorded, compared to more than 130,000 in the same period a year earlier.
Two common forms of flu, H3N2 and the B/Yamagata lineage of the virus, have not been detected in year.
Although they can still circulate undetected, there is a chance that the strains have become extinct because they have not been able to find viable hosts for a long time.
Texas Gov Greg Abbott (Pictured) was criticized for his decision to lift COVID restrictions in March
Gov Abbot’s decision to lift mask mandates and fully open the state has been mocked by many.
However, there have been no major increases in COVID-19 cases in the state since then, and the number has fallen by more than 60 percent since early March.
“With the medical advances of vaccines and therapeutic drugs against antibodies, Texas now has the means to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said in a statement at the time.
“We must do more now to restore Texans’ livelihoods and normalcy by opening up Texas 100 percent.
“Make no mistake, COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, but it’s clear from the recovery efforts, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations and safe practices Texans use that state mandates are no longer necessary.”
The governor also recently banned the use of vaccine passports in his state.
It looks like Texas may be headed for another COVID spike in the near future, with the state posting massive increases in cases in the past two days, including more than 9,000 cases on Wednesday after recording less than 1,000 on Wednesday. Tuesday – more than 1,000 percent increase in just two days.