Reports show new coronavirus cases and deaths are on the rise again in Wisconsin as we approach Thanksgiving. Health officials hope residents will take the necessary actions to turn the trend around this holiday season, resulting in a different snapshot from last year when the impact of COVID-19 spiked on November 27.
“The danger of spreading or contracting COVID-19 is still very real,” said Long Nguyen, DO, Family Medicine Specialist with ThedaCare Physicians-Wautoma. Dr. Nguyen has been caring for COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic, providing recommendations for vaccinations, testing and treatment. “The best way to protect everyone present is to limit your family gatherings to those who are fully vaccinated.”
If it isn’t possible for everyone at an event to be vaccinated, or if the vaccination status of the guests is unknown, the next best precaution is to encourage mask-wearing, Dr. Nguyen says. Other precautions include distancing guests when seated around the dinner table and keeping the room well-ventilated. Ways to keep the air fresh and reduce the spread of viruses indoors include keeping windows or doors open and using a window fan to help push air outside.
Experts say these extra precautions are especially important if there are people in attendance with compromised immune systems. They could be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, even when they have been vaccinated, due to medications or health conditions. The CDC recommends these individuals should follow all safety recommendations for people who are unvaccinated, including wearing a mask and avoiding crowded indoor spaces.
“If you have questions about your individual risk, schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with your health care provider,” says Dr. Sarah Wypiszynski, Family Medicine Physician, Ascension Medical Group – Koeller Street in Oshkosh. “Make sure that you are vaccinated and masked and ask those around you to do the same. If you are concerned about your health, see if you can use video conferencing like Zoom or FaceTime rather than gathering in person.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers other suggestions to stay safe at Small and Large Gatherings and Safer Ways to Celebrate Holidays, including special considerations.
A person is considered fully vaccinated if they have received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
Up until the start of this month, only adults and then adolescents and teens from ages 12-17 were eligible for inoculation. Now COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens are available, so more than 28 million children ages 5 to 11 can now get vaccinated. The smaller kids’ doses are safe and 90 percent effective, according to the CDC.
Additionally, public health officials suggest adults and children alike consider getting a booster shot when eligible.
“Call your doctor’s office to schedule an appointment and/or to speak with your provider to address any concerns or questions you might have,” Dr. Wypiszynski adds. Ascension also suggests calling your provider’s office for pediatric vaccination appointments.
Visit vaccines.gov to find where vaccines are available in the area. Health care facilities in Northeast and Central Wisconsin, including Be Safe Wisconsin partners Ascension Wisconsin and ThedaCare, are scheduling appointments for boosters, third doses and pediatric vaccinations for groups who are eligible. Some health care organizations are offering vaccine clinics on weekends to help accommodate work and school schedules.
Focus on Flu Shots Too
Doctors say don’t forget to get your influenza (flu) shot too this year. The viruses can change each year and bring serious consequences. “Flu cases were at a record low last year due to COVID-19 prevention measures like masking and social distancing,” Dr. Wypiszynski notes. “Influenza is still out there, and flu vaccination is the best way to prevent flu and its complications.”
The CDC recommends that everyone six months or older get the flu shot each year with only a few exceptions. The flu vaccine can lower the risk of influenza-related illness, hospitalization and death. “Because the flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, preventing flu means fewer people will need to seek medical care and testing for flu as well as COVID-19, saving time, money and stress.” Dr. Wypiszynski says.
Families who plan gatherings with people from multiple households, or who are traveling from other parts of the country, should take additional precautions, including avoiding crowds prior to hopping on a train, plane or in a vehicle. Also, consider getting a COVID-19 test before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
“If you are sick or if you have any symptoms, you should cancel your plans to help keep others safe from the virus,” Dr. Nguyen said. “While we all look forward to getting back to traditional celebrations and events, it’s still important to continue practicing precautions so that we can do our best to stay healthy.”
Medical professionals say symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, congestion or runny nose, a headache or muscle/body aches, sore throat, or a new loss of taste or smell. Patients should seek emergency care if they have trouble breathing, have persistent pain or pressure in their chest, have trouble staying awake, are confused or have pale, gray or blue-colored skin or lips, according to the CDC.
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