Hagerty Health & Wellness Tips – Staying Safe this Holiday Season
The holidays are approaching, and many families will gather to celebrate together. For the past 22 months, we have hunkered down hoping COVID-19 would go away. While this holiday season there are 50 percent less daily COVID-19 cases than last year, we still must take measures to ensure holiday celebrations can be shared safely, particularly when it comes to protecting our elderly and vulnerable populations. For those who are vaccinated the thinking has changed. It is now about personal risk level and finding ways to be as safe as possible while continuing celebrations and traditions as COVID-19 will be with us for many years to come. Collectively, we can all play a role in adapting to our new normal this holiday season and stay safe and healthy this fall and winter by taking the following steps:
- Get your COVID-19 vaccine and booster. This will be the year of Happy Vax Giving, a term coined to represent the safe gathering of vaccinated friends and family. To date, approximately 59 percent of our country is vaccinated which allows this year’s holiday season to be different from last when it comes to gatherings and celebrations. For those individuals who have received two mRNA vaccines or one does of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, consider getting the booster shot before the holiday season especially if you are above age 65, have underlying medical conditions or work in a high risk area. If there are family members and friends expected to celebrate with you that are not yet vaccinated, consider encouraging them to do so.
- Get your flu shot. This could be the most important flu vaccine you ever get. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests getting your flu shot now. Every year, flu circulates widely in communities. The symptoms are like COVID-19 and in some cases can lead to complications requiring hospitalization. The flu is circulating widely across the country and impacting those who are not vaccinated. On University of Michigan’s campus, flu is sweeping through the student population. However, of those who contracted the flu, 77 percent were not vaccinated. Public health experts worry what will happen if flu circulates widely at the same time as COVID-19. The term twindemic has already been written about by many media outlets. It refers to two pandemics happening simultaneously and could stretch our health care systems and our doctors and nurses to the breaking point.
- Consider COVID-19 testing. While the vaccine has proven to be effective against severe illness from COVID-19, there is evidence that vaccinated individuals can still carry and spread COVID-19. Therefore, another measure that can be taken to give you and others comfort is getting tested either with a rapid antigen or PCR test prior to gatherings. Encourage all at the gathering to also get tested.
- Continue to wear a mask. Specifically, in settings where you do not know others’ vaccination status or areas of high community spread. Evidence shows wearing a N-95 or KN95 mask saves lives. It is often said “I wear a mask to protect you, you wear a mask to protect me.” A study published in Health Affairs compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states. It found that daily spread of COVID-19 dropped by 2 percent as more and more masks were worn. In reviewing COVID-19 deaths across 198 countries, another study found that those countries that societal norms favor mask wearing had lower death rates. Lives will be saved by wearing a mask when physical distancing or when knowing one’s vaccination status is not possible.
- Increase ventilation indoors. While outdoors is always better than indoors, the colder climates particularly in the Northeast and Midwest often make this difficult. Therefore, this fall and winter as you gather indoors with vaccinated individuals think about ways to increase ventilation. Even opening a window or door allows for fresh air to circulate inside the space. Creating air exchanges to move any viral particles out of the air goes a long way. In spaces without windows, consider investing in an air purification system. There are many systems available, and you should look for one that creates air movement while utilizing high level HEPA filtration to clean the air.
- Wash your hands often. Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Throughout the day, we all touch many common surfaces and then scratch our faces, eyes or rub our noses without even realizing it. In addition, with mask wearing we now frequently adjust and touch our masks. Viral particles spread from common surfaces to our hands or on the outside of our masks. According to the CDC hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands must be done for 20 seconds to kill the COVID-19 virus. In addition, when washing your hands, it is important to clean all surfaces including palms, under nails, between fingers, back of your hands and even up to your wrists. Remember to wash your hands before you prepare food and eat, after using the bathroom, and after touching any common surfaces.
- Find ways to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing. Staying physically fit and mentally healthy is more challenging than ever before. Social isolation, lack of physical activity and the anxiety brought on by living through a pandemic, losing loved ones and friends, economic loss, and more have taken their toll. Seek help from family, friends, professionals, or search for support online. Find activities that can bring joy. Take care of your physical health by finding ways to eat healthy, exercise,, meditate, or move around your home. This fall and winter staying physically fit and maintaining mental health is even more important than ever before as studies show a direct correlation to a stronger immune system.
Jeff Bokser is Hagerty Consulting’s Vice President of Healthcare Programs with strategic expertise in all aspects of healthcare operations, finance, crisis management, and recovery. Jeff has over 20 years of experience as a senior leader at NewYork-Presbyterian and Yale New Haven Health. He advanced performance and increased revenue in clinical and nonclinical settings and led innovation in daily operations and care delivery processes. Jeff is nationally recognized in the healthcare sector for his transformational leadership in the areas of emergency and crisis management; security and safety; pandemic and surge planning; and business continuity. Jeff was the system-level executive responsible for Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Management, Business Continuity, Crisis Management, Safety, Security, and Regulatory Compliance for the entire continuum of the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital & Healthcare System enterprise. He served as Incident Commander guiding 40,000+ employees through numerous internal and external emergency response and recovery operations including Hurricane Sandy, Ebola, H1N1, and 9/11.