Safe Summer Gatherings

What a great day…
   
Your first real family get together in over two years. It has been months, even years, since you had seen many family members.
   
COVID really put a glitch in traditions, vacations and family celebrations.
   
But now it seems infections are down and life is returning to normal.
   
So, when you got together on that beautiful summer day, the possibility of contracting COVID didn’t seem to pose a threat.
   
It was an outdoor event, but unlike a concert, you were not bunched shoulder-to-shoulder.
   
There was a breeze to carry the virus far and away.
   
Hand sanitizer containers were set up on all the tables, and antimicrobial wipes were used on both eating surfaces and serving utensils.
   
You were pretty sure most folks were vaccinated, so why worry?
   
Therefore, it came as a surprise two days later when you began to feel “sinusy”; a bit of a cough, tired, stuffy nose, off your mark.
   
Your spouse advised you to take a COVID home test, which at the time just seemed silly, but the bigger surprise was the test result was positive. And surprise number three was your spouse, who had no symptoms, also tested positive.
   
How could this be?
   
Let’s start at the beginning by stating the obvious. COVID is alive and well and spreading itself on us all, especially as we allow ourselves to believe it is not as bad as it once was, and we have just had enough of the COVID scare. Unfortunately, the newer BA.5 variant is the most highly contagious to date, so as much as we want to let our guard down, we can’t.
   
It was recently reported that a woman attending a similar outdoor function developed COVID after hugging a friend as she was leaving the event. Although she was super cautious, even masked when she got close to others, both friends had removed their masks as they headed to their respective vehicles. In the few seconds they shared a hug, they also shared the virus.
   
You need to be vigilant in protecting yourself and your family members against COVID.
   
Get vaccinated AND boosted. Like the flu shot, immunity from the COVID vaccines only lasts so long, and our immune systems need that extra boost to keep COVID at bay. If you haven’t had a booster shot this year, get one. If it has been four months since you had your first booster and you are over age 50 or have certain health/immunity compromised conditions, get the second booster. Do not wait for the new vaccine anticipated in the fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that getting the shots now will not prevent you from getting the new vaccine.
   
Get your children vaccinated. If age 5 and older they can receive a booster; if age 12 and older, they can receive a second booster if moderately or severely immunocompromised. Encourage other family members and friends to get vaccinated and boosted.
   
A fully vaccinated and boosted person can still contract and carry the virus. Not all infected people have symptoms. If you plan to attend a larger gathering, consider every participant a potential COVID spreader.
   
Wear a well fitted N-95 mask indoors and in some occasions outdoors (cloth masks and surgical masks do not provide adequate protection). Although events are often considered safer outdoors, close proximity increases the likelihood of infection.
   
When you protect yourself, you protect others. If the event you plan to attend includes people such as older adults and others who are at risk due to immune deficiencies and underlying conditions, take an at-home test before you attend. Test again two days after the event, whether or not you have symptoms.
   
If you test positive and have symptoms stay home for five days and isolate from others in the home. Call your health care provider or pharmacy for Paxlovid as soon as you test positive. Test again on day five. If you leave your house after five days wear an N-95 mask around other people. Take precautions until day 10; avoid travel and people who are high risk. Don’t eat in the same area with others.
   
Know your community. Are COVID infections on the rise? Keep informed with weekly updates reported by local media. Ask family and friends if they know anyone who has been infected recently.
   
Be aware that many positive at-home test results are not reported; therefore, infection rates could be higher.
 
If your summer plans involve travel, be prepared should you get infected while away. Have a complete list of your and your family’s medications, vaccine histories and medical providers’ contact information. Consider having sufficient financial resources should a COVID infection require you to extend your stay. Carry over-the-counter medications that may ease COVID symptoms.

Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!, a group of people in Northcentral PA working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.
Published: 8/13/22

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