One thing that probably isn’t on anyone’s Christmas wish list is Covid. But with the season of mingling and mingling upon us, it can become increasingly difficult to avoid; first or second time.
So to help you avoid a Covid-19 Christmas Checkpoint asked for top tips and advice from Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker.
Earlier this month, health officials warned that the number of cases could rise to more than 11,000 a day in the summer with 100 hospital admissions a day. That would be similar to July’s numbers during the second wave of Omicron.
Healthcare workers are in overwhelming demand for the public health system, and Baker himself has already warned that we are well in the throes of a third wave of Covid-19, and it’s unclear where the numbers will peak.
Some caution with the Christmas joy therefore seems to be in order.
Go to Christmas parties, but minimize the risks
Baker said you shouldn’t skip Christmas gatherings because of the risk of Covid. Instead, take steps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, including having organizers stress that those attending major events should take a RAT test on the day of the event.
“You should definitely go because I think it’s so important to socialize, reconnect with your colleagues and enjoy the holidays, that’s really important!
“The big issue is doing it as safely as possible… move these events outdoors as much as possible to covered areas with lots of airflow. There are a lot of venues that have those kinds of settings.”
He warned that those who act irresponsibly by not testing are unlikely to be thanked for exposing others to risk or infecting them.
“You don’t want to get this infection just once, and you certainly don’t want to get it over and over again.
“Every time you get infected and re-infected, it has similar effects: you get sick, you put yourself at risk of serious illness and also every time of Long Covid. It’s not something where the risk decreases.
“The good news is that vaccination reduces all those risks, including Long Covid, and antivirals also reduce the risk of all these negative outcomes, including Long Covid.”
Consider masking up in crowds
Baker said different situations carry different risks, so some awareness and judgment was necessary.
“I would definitely consider using a mask in a very tightly packed, poorly ventilated retail situation.
“The Christmas rush means you’re in situations where there’s a risk… the number of people, the amount of space you’re trapped in, whether there’s good airflow and how long you’re there – this is where judgment really matters. “
Traveling in cars and on the ferry was less risky than flying, Baker said, but those who did have to fly or use public transportation should reduce their risk of contracting the virus by wearing a mask.
“I just got off a flight today and wore a mask the whole flight and also when boarding and disembarking – I was definitely outnumbered.
“It’s the biggest problem when you get on and off the plane, you crowd into a small space with a lot of other people with very little ventilation. Once the plane is airborne, the ventilation system kicks in and is relatively efficient. .. drinking a cup of tea is not a bad thing.”
What if you’ve already had Covid?
Baker said those who have just got over an infection should be extra careful not to pass it on, as they could still be contagious after seven days of isolation, and those who have had Covid some time ago should remember to re-infect can touch.
According to current official guidelines, those who test positive should be isolated at least seven days – but longer if they still have symptoms.
Baker urged people not to rush out of isolation, saying anyone who still returns a positive RAT test, even after seven days of isolation, is still contagious and could make other people sick.
“On seven days, a quarter of the people are still [shedding infectious] virus.
“Remember, with this virus, the original isolation period was two weeks. Ten days is pretty good, you probably won’t have any virus after 10 days. But you’re still contagious if you test positive on a RAT test.”
Those recovering need to protect their bodies from further damage by allowing for a gentle recovery, he said.
“The advice is to take it easy, and people definitely say you should wait at least two weeks from the onset of your infection to gently start exercising again.
“And if you’re still having symptoms, you want to take it really easy and don’t start exercising again until you feel like it, then build up slowly.”
Those who had already had Covid were at risk of catching it again very quickly, he said.
“Unfortunately, you are at risk quite quickly, even within a month. So you have to start taking precautions very soon after you recover from an infection to avoid getting infected again. There are people who are in less than 30 minutes have become infected again.
“You have more antibodies after you’ve had an infection, but the way to get antibodies is through vaccinations and boosters, not getting the virus if you can avoid it.”
Stay safe this holiday season – get a boost
“Get every possible booster you qualify for, it will give you a lot of protection. Vaccination reduces all those risks, including lung Covid,” he said.
“Currently, we still have a quarter of New Zealanders eligible for their third dose – or their first booster – who have not had it.
“And when you get to that fourth dose — the second booster, more than fifty percent of those who qualify miss out. So this is a big gap that is very avoidable at this point.”
Baker said he hadn’t had Covid-19 yet, which he attributed to both being lucky and taking precautions with masks and ventilation.
“I am not aware of any transmission in our workplace.”