BY RICHARD SKOLNIK
All of us want to stay healthy over the holidays.
Unfortunately, however, COVID has complicated our quest for good health. The quest is also complicated by the fact that COVID, RSV, and influenza are circulating at the same time.
It is also unfortunate that New Mexico has one of the highest rates in the US of new cases of influenza and the number of people infected by RSV nationally is rising. We have no data on local COVID infections. However, anecdotally, “everyone knows someone in Los Alamos with COVID.”
Given the above, there is an evidence-based set of practices which are recommended to keep us “healthy over the holidays:”
- Those eligible should be vaccinated against the flu and COVID
- Those over 60 should review with their physician the need for the new RSV vaccine
- Families should ensure that their children are up to date on their childhood vaccines
Childhood vaccines are especially important in light of the low coverage rate for these vaccines in some areas of the US and the continued circulation of different vaccine-preventable childhood diseases here and globally. To achieve herd immunity against measles, for example, requires 95% coverage, since it is so infectious. Yet, Idaho, like several other states, has a coverage rate just over 80%, which makes it “a measles outbreak waiting to happen.”
Improve Ventilation and Filtration and Move What You Can Outdoors
You can reduce the spread of airborne viruses by bringing in as much outdoor air as possible, increasing air filtration in your HVAC system, using exhaust and other fans to increase airflow, and using portable HEPA air filters.
Weather permitting, you can reduce risk by holding events outdoors.
Use Testing to Limit Viral Spread and Stay Home if Sick
Families can reduce the risk of people attending holiday events while infected with COVID by testing a few days before events, the day of the event, and every two days or so while still getting together.
People who are sick must avoid gathering with others.
Masking with a high-quality, well-fitting mask can also reduce the spread of infection. This is especially important, for example, for gatherings when people have not tested, while traveling through crowded airport terminals, while using public transportation, and when in the presence of especially vulnerable people.
Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Pay Particular Attention to the Most Vulnerable
One way to minimize the risks to your family is to focus on measures that protect the most vulnerable family members. This group would generally include pregnant women, infants, older adults, and people with conditions that pre-dispose them to severe illness when infected, for example, with influenza, RSV, or COVID.
Taking the above steps can help you and your family enjoy the holidays. Taking these measures can also reduce the risk that our post-holiday return to school will lead to lots of sick children.
There are many resources on the above, including, the following, on which this piece is based:
Richard Skolnik is the former Director for Health, Nutrition, and Population for South Asia at the World Bank. He was a Lecturer in Global Health at The George Washington University and Yale, where he still holds an appointment, and the Executive Director of a Harvard AIDS treatment program for three countries in Africa. Richard is also the Instructor for the Yale/Coursera course Essentials of Global Health and the author of Global Health 101, Fourth Edition.