Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Staying safe at Christmas

Published:Wednesday | December 22, 2021 | 12:09 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

Christmas is days away, and after celebrations were scaled down last year courtesy of the pandemic, hopes are high for more festive fun this time around. But COVID-19 has not gone away, and this festive season it is still really important to make sure we’re being ‘COVID-safe’ and mitigating the risks of the virus as much as possible.

We all know about the importance of socially distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands as often as possible. This advice has been drummed into us over the last 18 months, and infection rates are currently even higher than they were a year ago. While the spectacular success of the vaccine roll-out means even vulnerable people are much less likely to become severely unwell, no vaccine offers 100 per cent protection.

So, what other steps can you take to have a COVID-safe Christmas?

GOING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

If you are seeing elderly or vulnerable friends or family this Christmas you need to be extra careful to reduce your risk of transmitting COVID-19. The vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 by 92-96 per cent, even against the Delta variant – which means you are 20 times less likely to end up in hospital if you are vaccinated.

But the risk of dying from COVID-19 doubles with every seven years of increasing age. So compared to a 25-year-old, a 74-year-old is 128 times more likely to die from the disease. Even if you reduce that risk 20-fold with vaccination, that still means a 6-fold higher risk for a vaccinated 74-year-old than for unvaccinated 25-year-old.

So, if you are meeting up with elderly or vulnerable relatives, you really do need to try to reduce your risk of passing the virus on to them. Minimising your contact with other people for 10 days before you see them is ideal. But even if you cannot do that, taking a rapid lateral flow test before you go, and regularly if you are staying in the same house, makes sense.

It is also worth considering that a test does not provide complete security. If you have just been infected, the virus load may not be high enough to be detected but you may become contagious soon.

Even if you are negative at the time, you can become infectious after the test. Hence, you always need to be very considerate. A negative test result does not mean that you can abandon all caution.

If you are self-isolating because you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should not leave your house and cannot mix within anyone.

WEAR A MASK

Wear a properly fitted mask when physical distancing is not possible and when ventilation is poor, particularly indoors. Masks help stop people from spreading the virus or being infected when droplets containing the virus are inhaled or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Learn more about masks.

To make masks as effective as possible, clean your hands before you put your mask on, as well as before and after you take it off, and after you touch it at any time. Make sure it covers your nose, mouth and chin and when you take off a mask, store it in a clean bag. Wash fabric masks daily and dispose of used medical masks in a closed bin. Do not use masks with valves.

MEET OUTSIDE OR INCREASE VENTILATION

Go outside or open windows when possible. COVID-19 is more easily transmitted in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces and where people spend long periods of time together. Settings with increased risk of outbreaks include restaurants, choir practices, fitness classes, karaoke bars and nightclubs, offices and places of worship.

To make your environment as safe as possible this holiday season, avoid the spaces that are closed, crowded or involve close contact. Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor ones, particularly if indoor spaces are small and lack ventilation. If you cannot avoid crowded or indoor settings open windows to increase the amount of natural ventilation.

While COVID-19 can be asymptomatic, the most common symptoms are fever, dry cough and fatigue. Other symptoms that are less common include loss of taste or smell, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis (also known as red eyes), sore throat, headache, muscle or joint pain, skin rash, nausea or vomiting, diarrhoea, chills and dizziness.

If you have these symptoms, stay home and call your healthcare provider for instructions and find out when and where to get a test, whether you should isolate and how to monitor your health. People who have had close contact with someone who is or may be infected may also consider quarantining and testing.

If you have shortness of breath, or pain or pressure in the chest, seek medical attention immediately. Call your healthcare provider in advance to know where to go.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com

SOURCE: World Health Organization