Prioritize Health and Safety This Holiday Season

Whether you’re getting on a plane to visit extended family for Christmas or planning a New Year’s Eve party at home, you may be preparing to gather with the people you love during the holiday season. Unfortunately the holiday months are prime time for respiratory viruses like COVID-19, flu, and RSV. Even in this vision of a “new normal,” it’s clear that COVID-19, flu, and RSV will be circulating over the holidays, with travel and social gatherings facilitating the spread, but there are ways to decrease the risk. Here’s what experts recommend to prioritize health in the coming months.

1. Get your shots. At this time of year and as we move into the winter, the health of even people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 is susceptible to other germs such as those that cause the flu. If you’ve been wondering how to time your flu shot this year, get it now if you haven’t already. The new COVID vaccine is also available to everyone 6 months of age and older. Experts recommend waiting two months after your last COVID-19 vaccination before getting the updated shot. If you recently had COVID-19, the CDC says you can consider waiting 90 days. Immunity develops over the one to two weeks after immunization. 

2. Stay home if you have symptoms. The guidance is clear on this: if you have any symptoms or COVID-19, flu, or RSV — including runny nose, sore throat, cough, headache, or fever — you should stay at home until you’re feeling healthy, even if you test negative for COVID-19, says Nandita Mani, MD, an infectious-disease specialist and hospitalist at UW Medicine in Seattle. “Viruses like flu and RSV can have serious consequences in small children, pregnant people, and older or otherwise vulnerable individuals,” she says.

3. Utilize COVID-19 testing to limit the spread of viruses. Testing is a great tool in our COVID-19 safety toolbox, regardless of vaccination status, says Dr. Mani. Whether you’re taking a PCR or a home antigen test, the key is to test as close to the event as possible, she says. Antigen (rapid) home tests are less accurate than PCR tests, but they can provide results in minutes.

4. Filter the air indoors to reduce the risk of transmission. If your holiday gathering takes place indoors, “opening windows makes sense as a low-cost way to improve ventilation, if weather permits,” Mani says. As far as investing in a fancy air filter, there isn’t much data to show that’s significantly better than less high-tech options, she adds. “There are lots of great DIY suggestions for improving ventilation in rooms that otherwise don’t have access to fresh air, which seem to work quite well,” she says. 

5. Wash hands frequently. This method is tried and true in the health field for a reason. Although most of these viruses are primarily transmitted via the respiratory route, some (like RSV) may be transmitted by contact, so frequent hand hygiene is always a good idea. You know the drill: wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water when arriving at and leaving any social gathering, advises the CDC. 

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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