The past two years have changed our lives forever. Parents struggled to juggle remote school with remote work, all from the confines of home. Children lost important time at school with their teachers and peers. Many families mourned the loss of loved ones, or worried about at-risk friends and relatives.
We may be just beginning to realize all of the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted us all. And there is no doubt that the loss of the 586 individuals the disease took from our community here in the Rappahannock Area Health District will be felt for years.
But as spring 2022 dawns, we have the opportunity to step back and recognize the progress our country has made in fighting this disease. While there will probably never be a day when we can do a balloon drop and declare, “COVID is over!”, the fact is that we now have an effective, layered protection strategy that we can all use to stay safe as case surges and new variants come and go in the years to come. We have therapeutics that can fight the disease in individuals who contract the coronavirus. And we have multiple vaccines that have been proven highly effective at preventing severe illness and deaths available to individuals 5 and older.
The pandemic has taught us lessons not only about how to fight COVID-19, but also about how our actions as individuals impact those around us, and how we can build habits that will make us better able to ward off other potentially harmful diseases. Here are some important strategies for parents as we move beyond the worst moments of the pandemic.
Vaccines save lives
Whether COVID is on the front page of the newspaper or not, every individual age 5 or older should receive a full series of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, and a booster when eligible. Vaccines are now widely available and easy to schedule by visiting vaccines.gov.
While many families may be getting back to traveling and visiting family members in other states, there’s no reason for travel to interrupt your vaccine schedule. At vaccines.gov, you can enter the ZIP code where you will be on the date you need your next dose, and find a convenient location to stay on top of your immunity.
While the COVID-19 vaccine is essential for eligible individuals, it’s also important for parents to keep children up-to-date on important childhood immunizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that during the pandemic, many families who were staying home to prevent virus spread got behind on pediatric well visits and immunizations. Catching up with vaccinations for diseases such as measles, pertussis, hepatitis, chickenpox and many more is crucial, as these diseases all pose a serious risk to children.
And of course, don’t forget that annual flu shots are another important and free tool to protecting you and your family’s health.
Testing is easier than ever.
As of March, American households are now eligible to order four additional home COVID tests free of charge from the federal government. Orders can be placed at covidtests.gov. Home tests are a far cry from the extremely uncomfortable nose swabbing many of us remember from early in the pandemic.
They are a great tool to have in your home as you craft your family’s personal COVID safety strategy. You may want to take a test before visiting elderly or at-risk friends or relatives, for example, or for peace of mind when exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Having a fast way to understand your status can not only protect those around you, but also give you and your family greater peace of mind in going about your normal life.
Families with health insurance can also now get reimbursed for test kits bought at pharmacies and grocery stores.
You can find a guide to making decisions about home testing at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/self-testing.html
Travel: Know before you go.
It’s exciting to be able to get fully back to traveling for pleasure and to see relatives. To be safe when traveling, families can visit vdh.virginia.gov/Rappahannock and use the tool on the homepage to check the COVID-19 transmission level at their destination. Just as you would check the weather to determine whether to pack a raincoat, you can now check the COVID stats to help you decide whether to pack masks, home tests or take other precautions.
It’s important to note that the federal mask requirement on all public transportation in the United States, including airplanes, airports, trains and buses, was recently extended until April 18, at which time further guidance will be issued.
Some habits should stay
While many of the most restrictive elements of COVID prevention are going away, there are some lessons we learned over the past two years that will help us stay healthy by slowing the spread of a huge number of viruses and illnesses. Frequent and proper hand-washing, for example, shouldn’t go away with the pandemic.
We can also take a cue from the pandemic when planning birthday parties and other gatherings. Things like a big communal bowl of popcorn that everyone puts their hands into can be replaced with cups, serving utensils or individually wrapped snacks that reduce touching other people’s food. And any time you’ve got a big group indoors, remember how much of a difference fresh air from open windows can make in creating a healthier environment.
Another habit that should remain in the post-pandemic world is the empathy and compassion many people showed each other as we all struggled through this difficult time. As you’re getting back to living life to the fullest, just remember that many individuals in our community still have medical conditions and other factors that put them at greater risk of complications from this disease that still circulates. By avoiding judgment of those who continue to wear masks, or who may not be ready to come to big parties yet, we can start this new season off on a note of kindness—one of the most important elements of good public health.
To learn more about the resources the Rappahannock Area Health District offers for public health in our community, visit vdh.virginia/gov/Rappahannock.