In-person work and learning are in full force as many Americans head back to the office and back to school this month.
But for many people, the spread of Covid, flu and other infectious diseases means that personal health and safety remain a top priority.
The CDC reports that the daily average of new Covid cases in the US is over 65,000. And the total number of deaths from the virus reached 1 million in May – and all while other diseases such as monkeypox and polio are re-emerging in different parts of the country.
Individual preventive measures, such as vaccination and masking, can be excellent protection for students and workers this fall, says Eddie Stenehjem. infectious disease expert at Intermountain Healthcare.
How to stay healthy amid back to school, RTO
Get your Covid-19 vaccine boosters
Adults and children over the age of five who have already received the primary series of Covid vaccines and the original booster shots are about as protected as they can be.
The only additional precautions recommended for this group are:
“I predict that they [omicron-specific boosters and flu shots] it can be co-administered”, says Stenehjem.
The CDC approved getting a Covid-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time.
“There is no recommended waiting period between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines,” the agency wrote.
But it’s important to note that the CDC still hasn’t recommended getting the flu shot at the same time as an omicron booster, although pharmacies like Walgreens have made it an option.
Stay up to date with other important vaccines
“Now is the time to really evaluate whether you’re up to date on all your vaccines, regardless of your age,” says Stenehjem. “This obviously includes Covid-19 [and] flu, but it also includes preventative health shots that you would normally get.”
Vaccinations that the CDC recommends that adults be up to date include: polio, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap).
Contact your doctor to confirm that you have received childhood vaccinations and for instructions on next steps for any vaccinations that may be missed.
According to Stenehjem, parents should continue to have their children receive polio vaccines, following the normal schedule, if their series is not yet complete.
Assess the risk
Although it’s an individual choice, Stenehjem recommends risk assessment — which asks people to consider personal risk, community risk and risk of exposure, as well as steps they can take to mitigate or prevent the spread of a contagious disease.
Start by checking your community’s case numbers for circulating diseases, Stenehjem adds.
Epidemiology is local and knowing what is happening around you can help you assess how susceptible you are to transmission of viruses such as Covid, influenza, monkeypox and polio.
“It’s not just looking at the epidemiology in the United States, but looking at the epidemiology of the country where you live and then basing your interventions on that,” says Stenehjem.
For example, when deciding whether or not to wear a mask in the office, you should consider factors such as:
- the amount of face-to-face interaction you expect to have with your colleagues
- the likelihood of contracting a virus such as Covid or the flu
- the likelihood of a dire outcome for yourself or your family and friends if one of you falls ill
Mitigating risks also means staying home if you’re sick, even if you haven’t tested positive for Covid-19. The goal is to reduce the transmission of all infectious diseases, says Stenehjem.
Although that can be difficult for those who don’t have childcare or sick days, he notes.
Ideally, employers and school administrators should have work-from-home policies and distance learning options as a preventative measure, Stenehjem says.
He also adds that improved ventilation to filter the air of viral particles in common spaces would also help protect against a virus like Covid-19.
“We should all have an interest in public health, and we should all be concerned about the well-being of others,” says Stenehjem.
“This is not just about the transmission of Covid-19. This is about the transmission of the flu, the common cold and the like.”
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