Mask, Test, Sanitize: Staying Safe This Thanksgiving with COVID-19, Flu, and RSV

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner, bringing opportunities for festivities with family and friends.

But this year’s holiday events also threaten to attract some unwanted guests, as respiratory viruses and the coronavirus can find fertile ground to spread, especially in crowded indoor environments.

“Our winter virus season is early here, especially for our kids. We see stress in our clinics and hospitals caring for children, especially infants and children under the age of 12,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, director of public health and health officer in California, recently. “It’s important to remember that children get infected from other children and adults, so everyone has to do their part.”

While it’s impossible to rule out the risk of contracting COVID-19, the flu or RSV, health experts say there are several steps now known that can be taken to improve protection.

“I know I still look forward to this holiday and being with my mom and siblings and extended family and friends,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Gayly. “And then I also think, for the sake of our youngest Californians and other vulnerable Californians who can become seriously ill after a respiratory illness, how important it is to come together in ways that reduce the risk of becoming ill themselves or spreading it. of infection to others. .”

Stay on top of your recordings

While there is currently no vaccine for RSV – or respiratory syncytial virus, which can cause severe symptoms and even death in young children and the elderly – there is not the case for the flu or COVID-19.

Annual flu shots have long been available. But for many residents, the pandemic may have interrupted practice, especially given the atypically mild nature of the past two flu seasons.

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This time, however, officials are expressing concern about the early and serious arrival of the flu season. The disease has already reached levels not seen in years.

California Department of Public Health officials this week reported the first death of the season of a child under age 5 from flu and RSV.

“This tragic event serves as a stark reminder that respiratory viruses can be deadly, especially in very young children and infants,” Aragón said.

As the country experiences its first spike in flu cases in 13 years, the good news is that this season’s flu vaccine “appears to be a good match for the current strain,” said Dr. Matt Willis, health officer for Marin County.

Dr. Santa Clara County deputy health officer Sarah Rudman also noted this week that “any type of flu vaccine, even if there’s a so-called mismatch between what’s circulating and what’s in the vaccine, offers some degree of protection.”

COVID-19 vaccines are also available. In particular, officials are urging residents to take advantage of the updated bivalent booster, which targets both the original coronavirus strain and the Omicron subvariants that have dominated the US in recent months, including BA.5.

“The message to those coming into our household is to get the fall booster now. That goes for anyone over the age of 5,” Willis said. “We know the booster vaccine works.”

However, the recording has been very slow. Only just over 13% of eligible Californians have rolled up their sleeves, state data shows.

“I realize that many people think it’s too late to get vaccinated before Thanksgiving because the vaccines take time to be effective,” said Los Angeles County health officer Dr. Muntu Davis. “Although the protection increases one to two weeks after your vaccination, it does not mean that you have no protection until now. You still have some protection and you will be prepared for future events.

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Willis said the risk of hospitalization in Marin County among those who received the updated COVID-19 booster — available since September — is five times lower than for those who did not receive the new shot.

“And we’ve had no deaths among people who got the fall booster,” Willis said.

Consider masking

While no longer necessary in most settings, many health officials say wearing a mask — especially in indoor public areas — can help limit the spread of germs.

LA County again strongly recommends wearing a mask in indoor public areas. The guidelines come in response to the recent surge in coronavirus transmission, though officials noted that masks may also prevent other respiratory illnesses.

“Masks protect against RSV and flu in the same way they protect against COVID transmission,” Davis said.

Willis said he’s asking family members who don’t normally wear masks to do so in indoor public areas starting four days before his holiday gathering.

Wash your hands carefully

While the coronavirus is primarily airborne, other viral illnesses can be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth or nose.

Regular hand washing can reduce the risk of such transmission. Willis said he asks family members to “wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”

If you need to sneeze or cough, do so into your arm, elbow or a disposable tissue to prevent respiratory droplets from flowing out.

Maximize ventilation

Officials have long emphasized that outdoor gatherings are inherently less risky than indoors. Weather permitting, gathering in a backyard or patio makes sense.

For many, however, the arrival of colder months makes gathering outdoors an unappealing proposition. In these cases, experts say keeping doors and windows open as much as possible, or using indoor air filters, can help increase protection.

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One way to keep an outdoor option viable is to invest in a heating lamp.

Test the day of an event

Especially for the coronavirus, rapid tests remain an important tool to prevent transmission. Officials say guests, even those who feel well, should consider testing the day of an event to make sure they’re not infected.

Policyholders in the US can be reimbursed for eight home COVID tests per month for each person on their health plan. This means that an insured family of four can claim no less than 32 home tests per month, which must be reimbursed by the health insurers. The fee covers up to $12 per test.

When buying home COVID tests, keep in mind that many brands sell two tests in each box.

If you are sick, stay home

This is perhaps the most important, but most difficult question.

More than two and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of ​​missing a gathering with family and friends for any reason may seem like a deal breaker. But getting sick puts everyone at risk, even if you take precautions.

Also, don’t think that a negative coronavirus test will give you free access to a meeting if you have symptoms. You can test negative, but still be visibly sick and contagious. And even if you don’t have COVID-19, you may have a disease that you can still spread to others.

“It could be a heartbreaker, but we’re asking people if they have symptoms to stay home because it’s a simple and effective way to avoid spreading illness over a holiday dinner,” Willis said.

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