Sunday, January 16, 2022
Jan. 16, 2022

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In Our View: COVID cautions remain important for holidays

The Columbian

Another COVID Thanksgiving has come and gone. Another COVID Christmas is upon us. What once seemed unthinkable is now an unavoidable fact of life – a persistent virus that impacts everything we do.

In March 2020, when coronavirus was relatively new in the United States and Gov. Jay Inslee had ordered the closing of schools in some counties, The Columbian wrote editorially: “The conundrum is that there will be no telling whether Inslee has made a wise decision. The infection will continue to spread, probably for months; when it finally slows, there will be no way of assessing whether that spread could have been more effectively limited. But failure could be obvious if the virus spreads unabated.”

If only it were that simple. Now, 20 months later, the virus is still with us; at times it has spread unabated. Vaccines, introduced early this year, have helped stem the tide. And still, there have been more than 40,000 confirmed cases in Clark County since March 2020, along with more than 500 deaths attributed to the disease. Statewide, COVID has contributed to more than 9,000 deaths – roughly 18 years’ worth of traffic fatalities.

With the season of family gatherings upon us, perhaps it is time to revisit the basics of avoiding the disease:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (Hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol is recommended when soap and water are not available.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Use a tissue, then throw it in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Stay home and away from others when sick.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

That advice was issued at the beginning of the breakout. And while it remains relevant – along with wearing masks in risky situations — it has been overshadowed by the existence of vaccines that are proven to be safe and effective. The Washington State Department of Health reported last week that unvaccinated 35- to 64-year-olds are five times more likely to get COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people, and 18 times more likely to be hospitalized. The risk is similar for other age groups.

But even with about 65 percent of Washington’s population vaccinated, booster shots are recommended. The fact that you were fully vaccinated months ago doesn’t mean you still are immune; state officials report more than 75,000 breakthrough COVID cases since January.

The risk is exemplified in Europe. The number of COVID cases there is breaking records, and Austria – for example – has imposed a strict lockdown. The German health minister has warned that by the end of winter “just about everyone in Germany will probably be either vaccinated, recovered or dead.”

Throughout the pandemic, Europe has served as a harbinger for the United States. If cases are increasing there, we can expect a similar surge here in the coming weeks.

All of that is pertinent during the holiday season. Among other suggestions, the Centers for Disease Control recommends: “Protect those not yet eligible for vaccination such as young children by getting yourself and other eligible people around them vaccinated;” and “wear well-fitting masks over your nose and mouth if you are in public indoor settings if you are not fully vaccinated.”

Keeping ourselves — and our loved ones — safe is crucial to ensuring that the holidays are filled with only happy memories.