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Stay Safe During the Holidays

As the winter holidays approach, our family practice doctors are urging our clients to be especially vigilant about not letting down their guard against the novel coronavirus.

We know it’s tradition to gather with family and friends at this time of year. And it will be especially difficult to forgo the warmth and physical closeness of holiday gatherings.

But the numbers don’t look good. We appear to be in the third wave of the coronavirus, with infections and deaths soaring across the country. No state is seeing declining numbers any longer as people begin to let down their guard. It is imperative to practice proper pandemic safety this holiday season.

One model from the University of Washington showed that the U.S. could surpass 511,000 deaths by the end of February given the current rate of spread. Florida recently became the fifth state in the country to surpass 16,000 deaths from COVID-19. Florida now ranks the fourth highest in the nation. The upcoming holidays could push us over the tipping point.

 

Battling pandemic fatigue

Unfortunately, the holidays are coming at a time when most states—including Florida—have lifted earlier restrictions on many indoor activities. So people are left to themselves to maintain safe health practices.

But that’s not working as well as it did in March because of mounting pandemic fatigue.

“A lot of people probably are less careful and are taking risks, in part because they really want their lives to return back to normal,” Craig Smith, an associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, told Business Insider. “They’re sick of it. They’ve turned their lives upside down to try and be safe, going through the period back in the spring of shelter-in-place.”

This is true not only for Americans, but for people worldwide who have dealt with restrictions of varying degrees. But it’s having the unfortunate effect of letting the virus run rampant.

 

Dire predictions leading into the holidays

Dr. Scott Gottleib, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, warned late last month, “We’re at a dangerous tipping point right now,” in regard to the spread of the virus.

“We are set up for just a perfect storm—a conflagration,” said Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University. She told The Washington Post, “Right now, you can talk about there being lots of little burning fires across the country. And then Thanksgiving will be the wind that will whip this fire up into an absolute human disaster for our country.”

Here’s what we might be facing if we throw caution to the winds and ignore the warnings about social distancing and masks.

“Unless the U.S. and Europe take decisive action to stop the spread of the virus, we could easily see case numbers that eclipse pre-lockdown levels,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Washington Post. “If case numbers get too large, it may be too difficult to meaningfully slow the virus using measures other than shutdowns.”

 

A pandemic history lesson

The fact is, there’s still no cure for COVID-19 at the moment. There are some treatments that appear able to lessen the severity or length of the illness, but for now it’s just a roll of the dice. Someone could have mild symptoms, no symptoms, severe and lasting symptoms, or die from the disease.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, an estimated 50,000,00 people died worldwide. That pandemic lasted for three years until the virus mutated into a less-lethal form. During that time, there was no television, no Zoom calls, no Internet or smart phones. People simply had to wait it out while avoiding human contact as much as possible.

We’re more fortunate in that we have alternative venues for staying in touch with friends and family remotely. No, it’s not the same as in-person contact, but at least we can communicate with each other.

And that’s what we recommend. This pandemic is far from over, and it is just as transmissible—and just as deadly—as it was in March. Remember transmission of the virus is primarily through airborne methods. Up to half of those infected may not exhibit any symptoms, at least for the first several days. But they are still contagious, nevertheless.

 

Safety measures for the holidays

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people to celebrate Thanksgiving in their own homes with members of their household. This includes shopping online as much as possible and watching parades and sporting events from home. In addition, if you must gather in groups, make sure it’s outdoors, with face masks, and with at least six feet of social distancing between individuals.

“Understanding that everyone has this traditional, emotional, understandable, warm feeling about the holidays—and bringing a group of people, friends and family together in their house, indoors—that’s understandable,” infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News recently. “But we really have to be careful at this time, and each individual family [should] evaluate the risk/benefit of doing that.”

Remember, the sooner we can stop the spread of this virus, the faster we can return to our normal lives. Please practice proper pandemic safety this holiday season.

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