The holidays are upon us, and for many of us that means it is a time to gather around the table with family and friends, enjoying good food and the company of people that mean the most to us.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, holidays just will not look the same.
Even if you and your loved ones have been vaccinated, other protective measures will remain very important. Still, the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 this holiday season is to be fully vaccinated.
Unvaccinated six times more likely to test positive
Recent reports from the CDC show that adults who are unvaccinated are over six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and more than eleven times as likely to die from COVID-19.
Recent reports from Ballad Health still show our area of upper east Tennessee lagging significantly in vaccination percentage, with only 45% of the general population being fully vaccinated.
The infection rate has shown a dramatic decrease from just 4-6 weeks ago but with the rate still at 11.7%, we are more than double what is an acceptable infection rate (5% is deemed an acceptable rate). Over the past 7 – 10 days, cases are starting to slowly increase in our area once again. Being vaccinated is simply the best way to protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19 this holiday season. Getting the booster vaccine can protect you even more.
The CDC is also recommending people wear well-fitted masks in public, avoid crowded settings as much as possible, and taking a rapid COVID test the day of any large gatherings or at the least, a few days before the event. While the vaccine is very effective, there have been many documented cases of breakthroughs of the disease.
Vaccinated people are less contagious
These infections, however, are usually quite mild and very rarely lead to severe disease and even more rarely, death. Vaccinated people are generally less contagious than those who are unvaccinated, but they are still capable of transmitting the disease to others.
That is why wearing a well-fitting mask, good hygiene (thorough hand washing, covering a cough or sneeze for example) and distancing at least six feet in crowded public settings, may help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. N-95 masks provide much better protection than a surgical mask. Surgical masks provide much better protection than a cloth mask.
Taking a rapid test several times before a family gathering (or a gathering with multiple households) can improve the chance of lowering infection transmission amongst individuals. Rapid tests are useful in determining whether a person may be infectious or not.
They are generally cheap and available, and they are effective and easy to do as well. In general, outdoor events have much better ventilation and are much safer than poorly ventilated indoor settings. Also, when gathering, remember the elderly and those who may be immunocompromised – they are at a much greater risk of having severe disease versus those who are younger and more healthy.
Very important to wear a good mask
Planning ahead for simple things like grocery shopping can make a big difference. If you must go indoors to shop, plan to wear a good mask and observe social distancing of at least six feet from your fellow shoppers. Even better, consider utilizing your grocery store’s curbside pickup or delivery options.
If you are planning a large gathering, consider doing so outdoors if possible or in a large, well ventilated area, especially if the event will include: a large group; adults who are not vaccinated; many young children who are not fully vaccinated; immunocompromised individuals even if they are vaccinated; many young children who are not yet eligible for the vaccination.
In such large gatherings, it is very important to wear a good mask and observe social distancing. It should be noted, small, indoor holiday gatherings at home are generally low risk for families that are fully vaccinated.
Knowing the symptoms and what to do are very important. We are in the beginning of flu season as well.
The common cold, bronchitis, strep throat and GI viruses are quite prevalent this time of year. The flu, the common cold, allergies and the COVID-19 infection all have similar symptoms, and it is important that you pay close attention to those symptoms and seek medical attention if the symptoms worsen – severe cough, increasing shortness of breath and a high fever are all indications of a more severe illness, and you should seek medical attention immediately.
Discuss it with your primary care provider
The bottom line, the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 this holiday season is to get fully vaccinated, and if possible, take the booster. Wearing a well-fitting mask in high-risk public venues and in poorly ventilated indoor settings is highly recommended.
Rapid testing the day of, or at least a few days before your gathering is recommended.
As with any medical advice, seek out and discuss with your primary care provider any and all recommendations. Here is wishing you all a very Happy and Safe Thanksgiving, and a very Merry Christmas and God Blessed New Year 2022!
Dr. Blaine Jones is a retired Rogersville physician and co-founder of the People Loving People non-profit organization. You can email him at email@example.com