How to stay safe as flu season marks the holidays

Nearly three years after COVID-19 was first discovered in China, many are excited for the first holiday season without COVID restrictions. But at the same time, this is one of the first flu seasons after the lifting of restrictions, and diseases that saw decreased spread during lockdown are now back in full force. Nothing ruins the holidays like getting sick, so it’s important to be aware of the diseases circulating and how to stay safe.

There’s three major respiratory illnesses making the rounds this winter, which has led some disease experts to dub this a “tripledemic.” The flu is spreading as it usually does, but in larger numbers after a dip during the lockdowns. COVID, while nowhere near its peak, has also seen a slight resurgence. Finally there’s respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which usually only causes cold-like symptoms but can be deadly for infants.

“It was god awful,” said English teacher Michael Switz, who was recently sick with COVID. “I was in bed for like four days straight. I couldn’t do anything but drink water and puke.”

Broward County is thankfully ranked at a “low” COVID-19 community level by the CDC, but cases like Switz’s can still happen. Knowing when to use safety measures is the best way to keep you and others safe.

Vaccines remain the most effective way to deter diseases. While COVID and flu shots won’t completely prevent you from catching the viruses, they do greatly reduce the chance that you’ll get sick or have to go to the hospital. Few people have gotten their flu shots this year or the COVID booster shots, so definitely consider it if you haven’t already.

It’s also important not to spread diseases when you catch them. If you’ve been feeling sick, you should try to stay home or see a doctor, but if you have to leave the house then do so wearing a high-quality mask. If you suspect you may have COVID but aren’t quite sure, the federal government is offering free tests you can order online or find at community sites.

When you’re meeting with family and friends during the holidays there’s other steps that can be taken to combat the spread of disease. Leaving windows open or moving activities outside can actually help against airborne illnesses, since having more open space for viruses to disperse through decreases the chance that they’ll land on a person and infect them.

The safety measures you should take during the holidays depend a lot on the risk for the people involved. If you’re attending a large family gathering with older folks and people who have recently been sick, you should definitely try to wear a mask and get tested beforehand. On the other hand, if you’re attending a smaller gathering of mostly young and healthy friends, you may be justified in taking fewer precautions. What matters is that everyone is safe and able to enjoy their holidays.

“Hopefully, everyone is doing their best to stay safe,” Switz said.