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Help protect each other from COVID-19 this holiday season

Help protect each other from COVID-19 this holiday season

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The Jackson County Health Department and other county health departments around the state are participating in round-table Florida Department of Health discussions as that agency and its various local-level entities work on a system for deploying the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.

Who gets it first, how it's distributed and the number of vaccines available to each are among the decisions left to make as the time ticks toward the remedy’s roll out.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving is on the horizon, a time when families must decide how they’ll celebrate a holiday that is so connected to the notion of togetherness while trying to stay safe in the face of a pandemic that thrives on close physical proximity.

And even after the vaccine is coming through the pipeline, it’s likely that it won’t be immediately available in large enough quantities to immediate vaccinate all.

Local officials are concerned about the holiday and about notions like this: Many believe that, once you’ve had it, you can’t get it again because a once-infected individual’s body does build up antibodies to combat it. But that immunity can be short-lived, and the CDC reports that, while currently rare, some reinfections have been reported and are to be expected based on what’s known of similar viruses.

Studies are ongoing at the CDC as to whether a re-infected person would then once again able to spread COVID-19 to other people. The agency is also working to help public health professions decide when and how to test someone for suspected reinfection, and how to investigate those suspected cases.

As those and other issues are worked through, health officials say families, friends and co-workers have a vital role to play in keeping each other as safe as possible.

“The bottom line is, whether you’ve tested positive or not, whether you’ve been sick or not, face coverings, hand hygeine and social distancing are the best things we have at the moment to fight the virus,” said Jackson County Health Department official T.G. Harkrider. “It boils down to that. We’re very hopeful about the vaccine, but even when we start the rollout it’s going to take a while to get enough people vaccinated to start making a difference in the transmission rate. That’s why it’s imperative to continue those things.”

Harkrider said it appears that people in places around the nation have been becoming more lax in distancing and wearing masks, perhaps because of a brief lull in the positivity rate this summer. “Now we’re reaping the repercussions of that,” he added.

As of Wednesday afternoon in Jackson County, his department was monitoring 197 active positive cases, with 29 of those associated with the school system, 38 with long-term facilities, and the remaining 130 in the general population. There had been 89 deaths at that time. As of Wednesday afternoon, Jackson Hospital had 23 patients admitted with the virus and 11 of them were on ventilators.

Now that winter’s coming on with the usual seasonal allergies, flu and generally more indoor time, the time of year is working against the attempt to keep COVID-19 in check. Some might mistake their COVID-19 symptoms for something else, for instance, and not take the precautions necessary to protect others.

The following tips were issued by the CDC and the Florida Department of Health for protecting yourself and other this holiday season.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are fun but can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. Follow these tips to make your Thanksgiving holiday safer.

The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer.

Wear a mask

Wear a mask with two or more layers to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Wear the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.

Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face.

Stay at least six feet away from others who do not live with you.

Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread COVID-19 or flu.

Keeping six feet (about two arm lengths) from others is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.

Wash your hands

Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands.

Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

If you’re attending a gathering

Make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer, take these additional steps while attending a Thanksgiving gathering.

Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.

Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.

Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.

Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving gathering

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Other steps you can take include:

Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.

Limit the number of guests.

Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.

If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows.

Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.

Have guests bring their own food and drink.

If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

Thanksgiving travel

Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. But if you do travel:

Check travel restrictions before you go.

Get your flu shot before you travel.

Always wear a mask in public settings and on public transportation.

Stay at least six feet apart from anyone who is not in your household. Guests who have traveled from other areas or towns should distance themselves from people who are 65 or older and people of any age who have underlying health issues such as lung or heart disease.

If someone feels ill during the holiday season, get tested for COVID-19 and avoid going out public or being around at-risk individuals.

Older adults or persons with certain medical conditions who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, or live or work with someone at increased risk of severe illness, should avoid in-person gatherings with people who do not live in their household.

Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.

Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.

Consider other Thanksgiving activities

Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you

Schedule a time to share a meal together virtually.

Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing, or other dishes they prepared.

Watch television and play games with people in your household

Watch Thanksgiving Day parades, sports, and movies at home.

Find a fun game to play.

Shopping

Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and days leading up to the winter holidays.

Use contactless services for purchased items, like curbside pick-up.

Shop in open air markets staying 6 feet away from others.

Other activities

Safely prepare traditional dishes and deliver them to family and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others (for example, leave them on the porch).

Participate in a gratitude activity, like writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.

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