SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – For the first time in decades, the U.S. Flu season is on pace to peak after March, but case numbers remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Cases of the flu are on the rise, with 5.7 million cases reported so far this season. Data from the CDC indicates that for the first time since 1982, we will be dealing with increases in flu cases through May.

“A few weeks ago, we had more cases of the flu than we did for COVID-19, which was a change,” said Dr. Mark Kenton, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center.

Dr. Kenton credits the rise in flu cases this late in the season to loosened COVID-19 restrictions, “The fact that we’ve stopped masking, so we’re seeing an increase in the numbers. Schools now we aren’t masking there, so we’re seeing kids that are getting it and it’s just been a rapid transmission of it.”

22News asked Dr. Kenton if flu vaccines administered in October and November are still effective.

“It should. However we are seeing a lot of people getting the flu that were vaccinated. Now you hope people won’t get as sick as they would have without it,” said Dr. Kenton.

According to the CDC it’s impossible to determine if you have the flu with symptoms alone. The only way to know for sure is through a laboratory test, done by a care provider.

“Fever, cough, congestion, fever body aches can mimic both,” Dr. Kenton explained.

Not only do symptoms overlap for COVID-19 and the flu, it can be the same for other respiratory illnesses too. Despite the increase in cases, the spread of the flu is still substantially lower than pre-pandemic times.

So far this season, 5.7 million flu cases have sent 59,000 people to the hospital and caused 3,600 deaths. This flu-season timeline means there is still time to get a flu shot to protect yourself.