Need for COVID Safety Measures Remains as Holiday Season ApproachesNov 16, 2021
BROWNSVILLE & HARLINGEN — As local residents prepare for hustle, bustle, and family time that accompanies the holiday season, area health experts are urging caution when it comes to safeguarding against the spread of COVID-19.
While hospitalizations due to complications stemming from COVID-19 infections are off their surge levels of last month, COVID-19 remains active within our community. Although longing for the normalcy of holiday seasons past, Rio Grande Valley residents should continue to follow best practices related to COVID-19, said Dr. Christopher Romero, an internal medicine specialist with Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.
“I hope everyone can take advantage of the improving situation this year and spends much needed time with their friends and loved ones. We truly need to be able to get back to some sense of normalcy after all we have been through. That being said, we still need to practice common sense and protect those most vulnerable in our community,” he said. “This starts with staying home and getting tested for COVID if you are sick. We still have more than 1,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Cameron County alone, so we cannot fully let our guard down.”
Dr. Beverly Zavaleta, Physician Advisor at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, said the best way to enjoy a normal holiday season is for local residents to fully vaccinate themselves against COVID-19 and encourage those they gather with to do the same.
“COVID-19 cases are currently low in Cameron County, which is something we should celebrate! And speaking of celebrations, we’re all looking forward to a more ‘normal’ holiday season this year, but how can we do that? The short answer is that a nearly-normal holiday will be possible if we stay on our current path of vaccinating all eligible people,” she said. “Vaccines remain our best defense against COVID-19 infection by reducing the risk of death or hospitalization from COVID by 90 percent. I propose that we make it part of our yearly holiday prep to make sure that everyone is fully vaccinated before the season begins.”
Zavaleta said that local residents have responded to the healthcare community’s pleas regarding COVID-19 vaccination at higher rates than some of their counterparts throughout the United States, which will lead to more traditional family gatherings for the holidays in the Valley for fully vaccinated individuals.
“Our region has done a phenomenal job so far, with approximately 90 percent of people ages 50-79 vaccinated against COVID. Now we must build on our success by encouraging parents to vaccinate their children starting at age 5, and by giving booster shots to our elders and immune compromised folks,” she said. “The fastest path to a safe and healthy holiday season for everyone in your family is vaccination. Remember, according to the CDC, there are almost no health conditions that disqualify someone from getting vaccinated against COVID. In fact, most chronic health conditions make it even more important for you to be vaccinated against COVID because of the risk of severe COVID illness when chronic diseases are present. If you are still unsure about getting the vaccine, please read the guidelines on the CDC website or talk to your doctor.”
Illustrating Zavaleta’s point, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention updated its domestic travel guidelines in October, loosening them somewhat for fully vaccinated individuals. While even fully vaccinated individuals should continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing while utilizing public transportation such as air travel, unvaccinated individuals are urged to take additional precautions, including COVID-19 testing before and after travel, in addition to a seven-day, self-quarantine period of at least seven full days regardless of test results.
“As we saw with the Delta wave of COVID-19, outbreaks that start on the other side of the world can quickly spread globally in modern times,” Romero said. “Wearing a mask when we are packed into crowded planes, trains, and buses is just another tool we have to help defend all the progress that has been made in bringing this deadly pandemic under control.”
The CDC also updated its guidelines surrounding group gatherings in time for the holidays, offering guidance on indoor mask usage for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“We all are ready to take off our masks but the question of how safe this is depends on different factors. When gathering with other fully vaccinated people and the level of COVID circulation in the community is low, then going without masks indoors poses little risk,” Zavaleta said. “However, if there is a high level of COVID circulation in the community or if there will be unvaccinated people attending your holiday gathering, the CDC guidance recommends that everyone wear a mask indoors. In addition, people who have extremely high personal risk, such as an organ transplant or chemotherapy, may want to wear a medical mask such as K-N95 or N95 while indoors.”
Romero agreed, and encouraged local residents to consider the health of others while responsibly celebrating the holiday season.
“If you are sick, please avoid being around others this holiday season, both to avoid spreading COVID-19 but also the flu, which claims thousands of lives each year as well,” he said. “If you have not been vaccinated and you will be around people that are at risk of infection, such as older parents or grandparents, or people with health problems, the CDC recommends getting tested for COVID-19 before attending a gathering.”
For more information on CDC guidelines and COVID-19 safety during the holidays, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/celebrations.html and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html.