The holiday season is upon us. As we prepare to celebrate and visit with friends and family—many of whom we have not seen in a long time, we need to do so cautiously and wisely. To borrow from a flyer I recently came across: “We want to spread joy and love, not Covid.”
Unfortunately, a hard-learned lesson from the Covid-19 pandemic we are still living through is that Holidays and large social gatherings can lead in a matter of days to positive tests and increased cases of the disease. This is particularly true when measures such as staying home when sick, masking, social distancing, and other precautions are not followed.
Hospitalizations increase in a week and a half to two. In addition, we start to see deaths from Covid-19 at about a month or a little longer. We have lost far too many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and/or family members to risk even more devastation by not taking precautions.
Furthermore, colder weather drives people indoors, where the virus spreads more readily through the air we breathe and share indoors.
None of this is meant to say that we should not get together with friends and loved ones. On the contrary, we can share good times and traditions with them safely. Life is meant to be celebrated. It is also meant to be protected.
The best protection
Vaccines have been shown to significantly reduce the chances of getting Covid, ending up hospitalized, or dying from the disease. They also greatly reduce the chances of spreading the virus to family members, classmates, co-workers, fellow shoppers, and members of one’s church congregation. And they prevent the long-term complications of Covid survivors such as blood clots, brain fog, and many other problems associated with long haul Covid.
The vaccines are safe. They have been studied in clinical trials that followed thousands of volunteers for over 3 months, the time within which most serious complications would have occurred. Since they were approved, they have been administered to millions of people in the U.S. who have tolerated them very well as demonstrated by the most extensive monitoring for side effects ever, including self-reporting smartphone apps like V-safe. Those vaccinated now include 12.4 million 12- to 17-year-olds in the country. Given that vaccines have only recently been approved for the 5-to-11-year age group, already close to 2 million children in this age group have been vaccinated.
The situation we face
Unfortunately, going into the Holiday Season, Merced County residents are among the least vaccinated in California, with 46.8 percent fully vaccinated, and 58 percent partially vaccinated. This compares to 62 percent full and 77 percent partial in the state. There are many reasons for this, including mixed messages from various sources, a problem we want to address.
Coming out of the summer surge of the delta virus our hospitals are still strained and having not recovered to pre-surge levels. Our frontline hospital workers are overworked and in danger of burn out. Some have even left the health field. For several days our county’s two hospitals were in critical standards mode, where difficult decisions about whom to admit and the level of care available are forced upon families and health care workers. We want to avoid that situation again. We have suffered close to 660 deaths directly attributable to Covid-19 in the county since the start of the pandemic. Nationally, with Veterans Day recently observed, we are approaching 700,000 deaths. This represents one in every 500 people. To date, we have lost more U.S. citizens and residents than all our military deaths combined from World War I through the present. As we enter the holiday season and prepare for a New Year, we want to honor our dead, learn from our past lack of information and mistakes, and prevent further deaths so that the tragedy of one in 140,000 children who have lost a parent, or both does not worsen.
Publicity & media
The Merced County Public Health Department, in conjunction with civic and elected leaders, religious leaders, health care professionals, educators, and other respected leaders in the community are launching a publicity and media campaign and intervention campaign to protect Merced County residents during this holiday season. This united effort is important because of the mixed messaging and confusion that has persisted in the community, despite valuable tools in our arsenal to protect community health, education for our youth, commerce, and social life in our community. You will be hearing from trusted messengers in your community soon. Please help them to spread the message.
The first arm of our intervention campaign is to get the first dose of vaccine in arms by Christmas. The reason for this is that our epidemiologists have found that even partially vaccinated individuals are less likely to contract COVID-19, or to worsen in their illness than unvaccinated people. If either of the mRNA vaccines is used, the second dose should be given at the appropriate interval for full protection. Of note, currently only the Pfizer vaccine is approved down to 5 years of age. If the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is used, one dose suffices for full protection after 2 weeks, but it is authorized only for 18 yrs of age and above. Full immunity is considered to have been achieved at 2 weeks after the second dose for the mRNA vaccines. Booster vaccines are now approved for all individuals 18 yrs and older. However, our primary emphasis with this campaign is on vaccinating the unvaccinated who make up the predominance of hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid. Please contact vaccines.gov for a vaccination site near you.
A second component of our intervention campaign is to get tested, particularly if you are unvaccinated, at a state sponsored facility such as Optum Serve at the fairgrounds, your provider, a testing facility in the community, or via home testing purchased or provided by sites such as schools. This testing strategy is particularly important because Thanksgiving is already upon us and the vaccination component will take time. It is recommended to test before gatherings with family or friends who travel from outside your daily circle. Also, it is recommended to test again 3 to 5 days later, particularly if you develop symptoms. Something similar is being promoted in the schools in the county, through collaborative efforts. Please contact ….. for local testing availability.
The third component of the intervention strategy is to promote treatment for individuals who contract COVID-19 and are at high risk of needing hospitalization or dying. This treatment involves the intravenous or in one instance the subcutaneous injection of one of 3 available monoclonal antibody preparations that block the progression of COVID-19. it is a treatment for high-risk individuals with early symptoms of COVID-19, but certainly before 10 days, and who don’t yet require oxygen supplementation. It is not a substitute for vaccination but buys time and can save lives until vaccinated. You can contact “combat covid” on google or your provider for more information on sites available for
Please enjoy the Holidays with family and friends but do so in a safe manner. Remember to use masks and social distance in crowded public spaces, and when around persons of uncertain vaccination status. Season’s Greetings. You will be hearing more from us.
Dr. Salvador Sandoval is the health officer for Merced County.