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caption: A discarded mask is shown on Friday, November 20, 2020, along 7th Avenue South in Seattle's International District.
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A discarded mask is shown on Friday, November 20, 2020, along 7th Avenue South in Seattle's International District.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Health officials urge caution as holidays near

Holiday season is right around the corner, the third since the Covid-19 pandemic began. And, once again, health officials are nervous about how the health care system will fare as people gather and viruses spread.

This year, the concern is partly because of a resurgence of other viruses that have been less active during the pandemic due to Covid-19 mitigation measures.

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are surging and pediatric hospitals are seeing an unprecedented number of young patients.

Flu season in Washington state is also beginning, and a winter Covid-19 wave is possible.

All of this comes at a time when the health care system is already under immense strain.

As we prepare to celebrate with friends and family, what are some safe gathering precautions we may want to think about?

KUOW’s Kim Malcolm spoke with reporter Kate Walters to break it down. Here are some of the highlights.

How is this year different?

For the past couple of years, as Covid-19 has raged, other viruses typically encountered during the winter months have had particularly mild seasons.

Now, as more and more people are returning to pre-pandemic lifestyles, these viruses are making a resurgence.

Health officials are urging people to take precautions when gathering to protect against not only Covid-19, but also flu and RSV.

They warn that the state’s health care system is in a precarious position and it’s vital for people to take steps to help prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed by post-holiday illnesses.

What can I do to prepare?

Plan ahead and take precautions now to prevent introducing a virus to any gatherings you may attend.

Health officials recommend masking in crowded indoor settings, like the grocery store.

They also continue to urge the public to get vaccinated against both Covid-19 and the flu.

Flu shots are recommended for people 6 months of age and older. Everyone 5 years of age and older is eligible for the updated omicron-specific Covid-19 booster.

There are several ways to find a vaccine appointment, including:

For those who are hosting gatherings, health officials say it’s important to try to optimize indoor air quality and ventilation.

What can I do during the holidays?

Think about who you may be gathering with and whether they are at higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19, flu or RSV.

Infants and young children, pregnant people, older adults, and people with underlying medical conditions are all more vulnerable.

Wash your hands, cover any coughs or sneezes, and pay attention to any symptoms.

Rapid tests for Covid-19 can be a good tool prior to gathering with others. However, even if the results are negative, anyone who has symptoms should consider making the hard choice to sit out holiday get-togethers, according to health officials.

What may be a cold for one person could be dangerous for someone else.

Listen to the whole interview by clicking the play button above.