Given the influx of respiratory diseases in the United States, health experts are advising caution this holiday season. Here are five ways you can keep safe this holiday season.
"Everyone is obviously ready to do as much as they can that they have done in normal holiday periods, especially as many of us have given it up for a couple years," said Henry Wu, an epidemiologist and travel doctor at Emory University. "We're entering a new normal where we have to navigate how best to do what we want to do."
Here's what health experts recommend doing to stay safe this holiday season:
1. Consider your holiday plans and make a risk assessment
Wu recommends looking ahead at your holiday plans and deciding what events are your highest priority, and who you want to see. Then, he recommends making a risk assessment, thinking about how willing you are to risk illness and the same for the people you'll see.
Doing so could help you decide what safety measures to take. "Every family and every individual is going to be a little different," he said.
2. Get a flu shot and Covid-19 booster shot if you haven't
Getting vaccinated is one of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of getting sick, experts say. The bivalent Covid-19 booster shots made both by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are available to nearly all Americans, including most children.
Flu shots are also important and can help prevent hospitalizations. "The sense is that this year's vaccine is actually a pretty good match to the strain circulating," said Preeti Malani, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan. "And much like COVID vaccines, flu shots don't prevent all infections, but they can help prevent hospitalizations, deaths, as well as transmission."
3. If you don't feel well, stay home
Staying home is "one of the most profoundly important things we can do this holiday season to keep other people safe," said Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. "That means not going to that holiday part when you're coughing and sneezing."
According to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, "If you have symptoms, if you are feeling unwell, we are going to ask you to stay home. We are saying we don't really want people to gather if they're feeling unwell."
4. Move some activities outside, and improve ventilation inside
Ventilation is "one of the strongest things we can do to protect ourselves during respiratory pathogen season," Gandhi said.
Respiratory diseases have a more difficult time moving around outside, so moving some activities outdoors can help protect you. However, not everything can be outside, so for indoor gatherings, Gandhi recommends improving ventilation as much as possible. Open windows or use HEPA filters and ceiling fans.
"I think that has really come out as the strongest non-pharmaceutical intervention that's been revealed during this pandemic, because it just eliminates all respiratory pathogens," she said.
5. Consider wearing a mask in a crowded indoor setting
CDC and some municipalities are recommending people wear a "high-quality, well-fitting" mask in public right now.
"Especially in crowded indoor spaces, whether it's on the subway or in an airplane, a lot of people are sick around us right now," Malani said. "So put that mask on."
"I don't think a mask is a difficult thing to do," Wu said. "I really encourage folks to keep that mask handy and use it" when you're in a crowded and poorly ventilated indoor space. (Sullivan, "Shots," NPR, 12/14)
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