Protecting yourself against COVID-19 during the holidays – Amsterdam News

As we approach the third anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are faced with COVID fatigue, conflicting information and the false idea that the pandemic is now over. So with the third holiday season of the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, there are many lingering questions regarding COVID safety. Do I still need to wear a mask? Is it too late to get the booster for maximum immunity? Where do I even go to get the booster?

While large public gatherings during COVID have received a great deal of attention, small family gatherings during the holidays have their own risks. According to the journal Nature, “When it’s cold, people tend to gather indoors. Such gatherings pose a higher risk because the virus travels through the air in tiny droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, laughs, sings or even breathes…In winter, when people shut their doors and windows to keep out the cold, the air in the room stagnates, giving the virus a better opportunity to linger.”

“It is never too late because COVID isn’t necessarily seasonal yet,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. In an interview, he stated that “in general, get [vaccinated and boosted] whenever you can and the sooner, the better. Because this is a booster, it will probably start working in 3 to 4 days after the shot. And probably even sooner than that because it is a reminder, not the primary shot.” So even if your earliest availability is a few days before the holidays, it is not too late to boost your immunity against COVID. 

Here are Dr. Chin-Hong’s recommendations for a COVID-safe holiday season:

Remember the ABC Rules

Air: Ventilation is key and in environments like the subway, be sure to wear a mask. “Not only to protect from COVID but other things like the flu and RSV, too.”

Booster: “Get it as soon as you can. If you get it now, you may not need it until one year from now.” According to experts at Yale Medicine, the vaccine is the “most important step to protect ourselves for the holidays.”

COVID testing: You should definitely test: if after the holidays and you have symptoms. “Test at least 2-3 times over the course of three days starting from day 3 if the test is negative and you are symptomatic.” It is recommended to get tested if you had incredible exposure during the holidays. “So after the holidays on day 3, check at least once even if you don’t have any symptoms.”

According to the New York City Health Department, “Get a COVID-19 test before and after you attend a gathering or travel, especially if you will be with older adults or others at increased risk of severe COVID-19.” 

Wash your hands: While we have come to understand that COVID cannot be contracted from surfaces, it is still crucial to wash your hands to protect against viruses like influenza and RSV.

Make a Paxlovid plan: In many pharmacies across the country, pharmacists have the authority to prescribe Paxlovid. But some are worried about prescribing it because people may have some drug interaction, so it is important to develop a plan before you actually need it. “Having a plan before you actually need it is going to save you a lot of anguish.”

Dr. Cameron Webb, JD, MD, a senior policy advisor for COVID-19 Equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team, agrees. In an interview with the AmNews he stated, “Getting vaccinated now is helpful. You don’t get the full benefit of that for a couple of weeks but it’s still so important to get vaccinated now. Know to be mindful of symptoms and don’t show up if you’ve got [symptoms]. Make sure you test before you meet up with everybody and [be up to date on the] vaccines.”

Webb adds the importance of knowing community levels of COVID. “Know [COVID] community levels both where you are so you know where you live and where you’re going. You can go to COVID.GOV, you can type in your county and you can get a sense of the dynamics.” He emphasized that in areas with higher rates of COVID cases it’s even more important to wear masks when indoors.

The most vulnerable should also be remembered. According to Dr. Andrew Pekosz, virologist at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, “COVID-19 cases are still extremely high. We’re talking about surges in cases with RSV and influenza. You can be transmissible a day or so before you actually start to show symptoms, and many times those first symptoms are mild and people probably may not recognize right away that they’re feeling ill, so it’s very important to really pay attention to whether you’re sick or not. Have a few rapid antigen tests with you so that you can test yourself if you’re starting to feel a little bad. People with secondary medical conditions, those over the age of 65 are still very susceptible to severe disease. We need to keep vigilant and keep aware of this so that we can…prevent these surges.”  

Dr. Chin-Hong reminds us that “people of color are still getting infected more, hospitalized more and dying more from COVID, despite almost equivalent rates of vaccination so it is even more important to get your boosters and take the safety precautions.”

For additional resources around COVID-19 please visit www1.nyc.gov/site/coronavirus/index.page or call 311. New Yorkers can find locations of where to pick up free rapid tests by calling 311 or by visiting: www.nychealthandhospitals.org/covid-19-testing-sites/ and can schedule an at-home test by calling 929-298-9400 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week.

COVID-19 testing and vaccination resources can also be accessed on the AmNews COVID-19 page: www.amsterdamnews.com/covid/ 

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