Loudoun Co. health director offers COVID-19 holiday safety tips

With many people planning to celebrate Christmas with extended family for the first time in two years, Loudoun County health director Dr. David Goodfriend said there are several things you should do to prevent COVID-19 from joining the festivities.

Whether you plan to gather locally or travel out of the area for a holiday, Goodfriend recommended a layered approach including vaccinations, testing, wearing masks and social distancing while indoors.

“This is the perfect time to get your booster so that you’ll be fully protected by Christmas,” Goodfriend said. “If you’ve not been vaccinated at all, you will not get full protection by getting vaccinated now, but it may give you some.”

So far, the omicron variant of COVID-19 has appeared mild, but reportedly spreads more easily than delta, including to vaccinated people. Goodfriend’s concerns were surrounded those with mild infections that could spread to other, more vulnerable people.

“Mild things in younger people may not be mild in our seniors,” Goodfriend said. “What we’re finding is that particularly with omicron … without that booster shot, the effectiveness of the vaccine does drop down significantly.”

Goodfriend also said testing will be critical to combatting the virus this holiday season.

“If you think you may have come in contact with COVID or have any symptoms at all, get tested before you go,” the physician said. “If you’re traveling, you’re going to be in a close space with other people, and even if they’re vaccinated, that may be enough to make them sick.”

They also noted that people can be surprised by their test results.

“Each week with our testing in the county, we find people who test positive who didn’t think they had any high risk, didn’t have any symptoms, but just wanted to get tested to be sure,” Goodfriend said. “So there are easily many folks around the region now who have no reason to think that they would be infected. They’ve been fully vaccinated, and they don’t have any symptoms but may be carrying the virus and passing it on to others.”

Goodfriend said it’s still essential to wear masks and keep a safe distance from other people you don’t live with when you’re indoors, even if you’re road-tripping and need to stop for a fill-up at a gas station.

If you’re hosting a gathering and some guests haven’t gotten vaccinated, you may consider asking guests to get tested before they come.

“It really is an individual case by case situation of who’s being invited, (and) what the risk factors are of those folks being invited. If you’re inviting your 92-year-old grandparents, it’s very different than just having 20-year-olds together,” Goodfriend said.

Goodfriend warned that the coronavirus is spreading in the D.C. area.

“We’re seeing a very rapid rise in cases in Loudoun County and through our region,” Goodfriend said. So far, the county has not seen a significant rise in hospitalizations or deaths, but historically there’s a lag time between a spike in cases and increases in people going to the hospital and even dying.

He’s concerned about what the start of the new year will bring.

“Every year in our region, we find that as people come back from Christmas vacation, that’s typically when the flu and other respiratory illnesses pick up,” Goodfriend said. “We do have widespread influenza now in our region, which we did not have last year, and on top of that, we have high transmission of COVID. So very likely, the number of people who are sick, whether from flu, from COVID, or from other respiratory infections that tend to be passed in the winter, is going to go up significantly in January.”

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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