COVID-19 & Holiday Gatherings
As 2020 comes to a close and we prepare to celebrate the holidays and the end of a challenging year, it is important to consider the various levels of risk exposure related to COVID-19. The safest way to celebrate the holidays is from your own home and with members of your household. If you chose to gather or travel be sure to do so wisely. Keep gatherings small, stay outside if possible, wear masks and social distance.
An additional way to keep your loved ones safe before gathering is to minimize exposure and undergo COVID-19 testing in Carrollton. Testing should be performed with enough time leading up to gatherings to obtain results. In addition, traveling poses extra layers of risks, be sure to wear a mask, wash and sanitize hands frequently when traveling. If you or someone you know attends a holiday gathering, it is critical to self-quarantine for 14 days after travel to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Overview of 2020
With the start of the new year, it is important to reflect on how our society has learned to adapt to new challenges in 2020. This past year introduced the world to a pandemic that no one was fully equipped for. Multiple changes including face masks, limited gatherings and remote employment impacted our lives as we knew them.
In December, the case count in the United States surpassed 17 million with over 300,000 deaths. A surge of cases at the end of the year could also be explained by public COVID fatigue and holiday gatherings closing out the year. The series of holidays at the end of 2020 could set us up for serious failure as we enter into 2021.
The new year brings many unanswered questions as we prepare to navigate into another year of unknown territory. How successful we are as a society to decrease the incidence of COVID-19 is conditional on various factors, including how well we continue to abide to public health guidelines, how quickly vaccinations can be administered to the majority of the population and the public’s willingness to get vaccinated. In addition, there is still much more to be learned about the virus including an ever-growing list of symptoms and the impact of different strains.
Public Health Guidelines
One major lesson 2020 has taught us is that the guidelines put in place by public health experts truly do work. Wearing a mask, routinely sanitizing and washing hands and maintaining social distancing are powerful tools which will continue to keep us safe and healthy. 2021 has the potential to be as bad, if not worse, than 2020 if we do not improve our efforts. The pandemic is not simply going to end because Dec. 31st has come and gone.
Not only must masks be worn but they must be properly fitted to the face to minimize the chance of viral particles entering the mask and nasal passageway or vice versa. As 2020 came to a close, we as a society began to experience COVID fatigue which led to less adherence to public health guidelines. In addition, communities eased up on regulations and mask mandates as daily averages began to show promising numbers. This quickly led to a new surge of cases right before the holiday season.
While vaccines may bring about added protection, they alone cannot reduce the spread of COVID-19. Although the COVID-19 vaccine protects you from contracting the virus, it does not prevent you from serving as a carrier. There is still the potential of vaccinated individuals carrying viral particles in their nasal passageway and infecting other non-vaccinated individuals. Wearing a mask in conjunction with receiving the vaccination will be critical to reduce our COVID-19 count.
In addition, protection is not ensured immediately. Most vaccines require a series of two shots, given about one month apart. Only after receiving the second vaccine are you considered protected from the vaccine. Although vaccines approved for distribution exhibit high efficacy rates (90%+), they do not guarantee 100% protection against the virus. We also do not have enough data to determine how long protection from the vaccine will last.
Another issue with vaccines is that they will more readily available for adults before they are for children. Although adult trials are wrapping up, trials for children ages 12 to 18 started in late October. Currently, there are also no trials for children under 12 years of age.
What’s to come
As public health officials begin to prepare for mass vaccinations and more research resumes on the virus, it is important to continue to follow public health guidelines to flatten the curve. Halfway through 2020 we began to see lower cases which led to the misconception that as a society we were near the end. Given the current rise in cases, we know now that is not the case. As we enter this new year, we must continue safe behaviors and minimize risky behaviors. If behaviors do not change surrounding masking and social distancing, 2021 may turn out to be a year full of additional challenges.
Bianca Garcia holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Washburn University and a Master of Public Health from Kansas State University. She currently serves as the Community Health Division Supervisor for the Unified Government Public Health Department in Kansas City, Kansas. In this role, Bianca oversees the programming and coordination of a variety of public health initiatives including traffic safety, community infrastructure, fetal infant mortality and addressing health disparities. Bianca also collaborates with community partners to implement tobacco cessation and prevention initiatives. She manages the Tobacco Free Wyandotte Coalition which is composed of a variety of community stakeholders. Together, the coalition works to reduce the burden of tobacco associated disease in the community. Bianca also advocates for local and state tobacco policies that protect health. She has a passion for health promotion, prevention and service to the community.