We are hearing the great news about the COVID-19 vaccines being distributed across the country, which brings us hope that the year 2021 will soon begin to start transitioning back to “normal.” We are all tired of social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing, but it is imperative that we continue to practice these precautions in the weeks and months ahead in order to turn our wishes of a health new year into a reality.
Two major holidays are in progress now, Christmas and New Year’s. If the rise in virus spread that we experienced following Thanksgiving is any indicator of what can take place again, we need to take precautions to an even higher level as December draws to a close. We hear this message on the news every day, but it can’t be said enough. Please wear your mask, wash your hands frequently and socially distance from others.
Gatherings with others outside of your home for holiday meals and get-togethers should be avoided or conducted with particular caution. If you are not concerned with your own safety, be aware of others you may be affecting by spreading the virus unsuspectedly. The elderly and those with other health conditions are at even greater risk if they contract COVID-19, as well as the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control has reported that 1.5 million new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the past week, likely due to spread from the past holiday, and the safest way to celebrate the December holidays is to celebrate at home with people who live with you. The CDC adds that celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses the lowest risk for spread. Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit (such as your house or apartment). This can include family members, as well as roommates or people who are unrelated to you.
People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households. Take extra precautions in these cases. In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, pose varying levels of risk.
Organizers and attendees of larger events should consider the risk of virus spread based on event size (number of attendees and other factors) and take steps to reduce the possibility of infection.
Also, beware of exposure during travel. Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces.
If you must attend an event, consider the duration of the gathering. Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick.
It’s also important to consider the behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering. Individuals who do not consistently adhere to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask wearing, handwashing and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than those who consistently practice these safety measures.
Behaviors of attendees during a gathering are also a factor. Gatherings with more safety measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing, and handwashing, pose less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented. Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures.
In conclusion, we have all heard these messages numerous times and everyone is weary. Just hold on to these precautions a bit longer and together we will see the improvements in the New Year!
Maralyn Militello, MPA, BSN, RN, CPHQ, NEA-BC, is the senior director of nursing for Eastern Niagara Hospital. Eastern Niagara Healthlines is a special feature by the Eastern Niagara Health System’s community relations department. For more information, call 716-514-5505.