As the weather begins to cool, infectious disease specialists warn now is not the time to get complacent with preventing the spread of illnesses.
In addition to this fall traditionally being the start of cold and flu season, families must also grapple with the spread of the coronavirus.
With events such as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, and cold temperatures moving more gatherings inside, experts say it can be more difficult to social distance.
“We are now six months into the pandemic and it is clear that the established behaviors of masking, distancing and hand washing are effective in mitigating, but not eliminating, viral spread,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Dylan Slotar, who is on staff at Community Hospital, St. Catherine Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center. “It is important to re-emphasize this triad of precautions as we enter the fall and winter months and people spend more time indoors.”
For many, the prospect of several more months of mask wearing and social distancing can feel daunting, especially as many families prepare for upcoming holidays or traveling.
Dr. Dafer Al-Haddadin, an infectious disease physician with Franciscan Physician Network, said it’s important not to get deterred.
“I know everyone has ‘COVID-19 fatigue,’ including me,” he said. “This would not affect my determination on being as safe as possible in avoiding contracting this disease and passing it on to others.”
As families begin to decide whether they can gather for the holidays or attend other indoor events, Al-Haddadin advises to keep a few things in mind.
“I believe we could do that through creating a committed bubble group that trusts each other with their lives,” Al-Haddadin said. “The group should plan all gatherings in advance, commit all to safe practices until the date of the event and beyond. Those in the group should excuse themselves from attending the planned event if they deviate from safety.”
In addition to this commitment, Al-Haddadin says individuals should still social distance from one another, seat groups according to their households and wear masks when not eating. Straws can be used for drinking under masks, he says, and when masks are off for eating, try to avoid talking. Other precautions can include reserving a spread of food for each family, he says.
Families should keep in mind particular risks unique to them as well, Slotar said.
“Individuals need to calibrate their activities according to their personal risk profile,” he said. “Those with increased risk for severe illness or who live with such individuals should avoid situations that will put them at risk for getting infected. Younger people without chronic illnesses have more latitude.”
Additional tips he recommends include to avoid shaking hands, utilize large spaces with better ventilation and avoid events with large gatherings that pose a greater risk.
“Gatherings with people required to travel from different geographic areas pose higher risk than with attendees from the same area,” Slotar said.
Medical experts say those who haven’t received their flu shots yet, should look into getting it soon.
“Although the infection fatality rate for influenza is less than that of COVID, the flu still kills 30,000 or more Americans annually,” Slotar said.
Influenza infection also can make an individual more susceptible to infection by other pathogens, such as COVID-19, which can cause a more serious disease, he said.
“It is important to emphasize that the elderly and those with underlying conditions are more susceptible to both influenza and COVID-19, but unlike COVID, the flu also hits children particularly hard and can spread readily in schools,” Slotar said.
Following precautions put in place to prevent any respiratory pathogen spread can help keep families safe this fall and winter, Al-Haddadin said.
“Then we would buy time for all of us to be around to see another miracle of science come true, end this pandemic and help us appreciate the sacrifices that we went through to manage these difficult times,” he said.
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