As we enter the fall and winter months, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the country. Unlike when the pandemic started, we now know how to stop the spread of the virus and mitigate the risks of becoming infected. While it has been a long seven months, we have many more months ahead and must remain vigilant. Collectively, we can all play a role in blunting community spread of COVID-19 and stay safe and healthy this fall and winter by taking the following steps:
- 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 by the end of October. Every year, flu circulates widely in communities. The symptoms are similar to COVID-19 and in some cases can lead to complications requiring hospitalization. The 2018–2019 flu season in the United States, resulted in about half a million hospitalizations and more than 34,000 deaths. 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.
- Continue to Wear a Mask. Evidence shows wearing a 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 is not possible.
- 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 by taking physically distanced walks or runs outdoors, 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.
- Stay outdoors. With the change of seasons, it will become more and more difficult to remain outdoors, but the best way to avoid the spread of COVID-19 is to stay in fresh outdoor air, spaced 6 feet apart from other people. Fresh air is constantly moving and circulating allowing the disbursement of respiratory droplets. When indoors, you share more air than when outdoors making it more likely to inhale droplets from an infected person. As the temperatures start to dip below freezing, the National Weather Service suggests wearing layers of lightweight clothes. On days where it is below zero degrees, plan to stay indoors and socialize virtually. If it is imperative to be inside with others for school, work, or other essential needs, wear a mask.
- Think differently this holiday season. We all need to get comfortable with the idea that holidays will be different this year. There cannot be large indoor parties or gatherings this Halloween, Thanksgiving, and winter holiday season. The CDC has published a list of what is considered low, moderate and high risk this holiday season.Although nothing can replace the way we normally carry out traditions, think differently. Try to create outdoor, socially distanced events, drive-by celebrations, and virtual gatherings. You will create new traditions and memories in the process.
Hagerty Health and Wellness Checklist
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.