The Memorial Day holiday weekend typically means two things: honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and kicking off the unofficial start to the summer season.
This year, some public health officials say we need to continue to pause on some summer celebrations a bit longer, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines issued mid-May for people who are fully vaccinated.
Although getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 gives you more freedom to interact with others in public as you did before the pandemic, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services states, “Mask wearing continues to be an important COVID-19 mitigation strategy… regardless of vaccination status,” especially in public places such as schools, health care settings, homeless shelters and other settings where regulations still exist.
Dr. Lee Vogel, executive director of Be Safe Wisconsin Partner Mosaic Family Health, shares these thoughts as Wisconsinites head into the summer season: “The recent stall in vaccinations could create an opportunity for the virus to mutate in the pool of unvaccinated people, becoming a more infectious and deadly virus and potentially one not covered by current vaccines. With low vaccination rates, people venturing out more, restrictions loosening, and variants developing in the U.S. as well as coming in from other countries, we could see another resurgence of the virus. If so, public health officials might initiate another year like the last one, starting this fall.”
That said, Be Safe Wisconsin partners suggest how to recognize and recreate safely this holiday weekend.
THE SACRIFICES WE STILL NEED TO MAKE
Despite the De Pere Memorial Day Parade being canceled for a second year in a row, Wisconsinites can “attend” a couple of Memorial Day weekend ceremonies virtually. Neither is open to the public but check your local TV listings for the live broadcasts and on media websites and social media channels.
- Saturday, May 29 at 10:00 a.m., the Fox Valley Veterans Council (FVVC), a Be Safe Wisconsin partner, is hosting the “FVVC Memorial” at the Outagamie County Courthouse. Check out the FVVC Facebook page for updated information.
- Monday, May 31 at 10:00 a.m., the Appleton Parade Committee presents “The Moment of Remembrance,” which will begin streaming on its parade partners’ social media channels and/or websites, including WFRV Local 5.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting our efforts to honor the fallen in a way we usually do,” says Zach Zabel, Community Engagement Manager of the FVVC. “We suggest people monitor our social media and webpage for guidance moving forward.”
Similar to Veteran’s Days safety tips, the FVVC asks Fox Valley residents to also use the holiday as a time to continue supporting the basic needs of veterans, many of whom are anxious over contracting the coronavirus and living under pandemic restrictions with its resulting isolation.
Public health officials, meanwhile, would like to see more veterans get vaccinated, so they are protected from the virus. The need is greatest in rural areas where veterans tend to be more hesitant to get the vaccine compared to more urban areas – similar to the general population. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), all veterans, their families – including children 12 and older – and caregivers can now get a COVID-19 vaccine at a VA facility near you as walk-ins.
The FVVC is helping in the process. “We assist vets getting vaccinated by forwarding the information on the availability of the vaccine, who is offering it, and where they can get it,” adds Timothy Cody, president of the FVVC. Some of that information can be found on the FVVC’s news page.
KICKING OFF THE “FUN” SEASON SAFELY
“We still need to be cautious for yet another holiday weekend,” Dr. Vogel adds. “We’re not quite yet out of the ‘Pandemic Woods,’ and many of us still need to continue certain behaviors like masking and social distancing.”
A printable chart from the CDC on choosing safer activities shows you when it’s best to stick with COVID-19 protection protocols, keeping ourselves and our communities safe.
The Wisconsin DHS suggests the following if you are not vaccinated.
- Wear a mask.
- Stay at least 6 feet away from other people when possible.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Stay home when sick.
- Get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- Get vaccinated when you are eligible.
- Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
If you are fully vaccinated, DHS notes, “You no longer need to wear a mask or practice physical distancing when outdoors with members of your household or while attending a small, outdoor gathering.” But public health officials still want you to wear a mask under these circumstances.
- Attending crowded, outdoor events.
- Indoors with unvaccinated people from multiple households. For example:
- At a social gathering
- While shopping
- At a restaurant or bar
- At a barber or hair salon
- At a movie theater or museum
- At a worship service
- While on public transportation
DHS encourages everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Veteran or not, Dr. Vogel says, “If you are hesitant to get vaccinated, reach out to your family physician to discuss the facts of the risks and benefits of you personally getting vaccinated.”
She also recommends that you check out reliable sources of information online, such as the CDC, Wisconsin DHS and VA as well as health system websites like ThedaCare and Ascension Wisconsin, to help you make an informed decision on rolling up your sleeve to get vaccinated against COVID-19.