By David C. Rose, MD, MBA, FAAP
Seemingly overnight in 2020, your hands became the most important tools in the fight to defeat a deadly virus. You probably started thinking about how many times a day you touched your face. Did you wave to friends, or did you venture to give the old fist bump? Maybe you never left home without hand sanitizer. How many times did you count to 20 or sing the “Happy Birthday” song, just to make sure that you washed your hands long enough? Unfortunately, after people started getting vaccinated against COVID-19, we slowly started to drop those habits and the proof is in the pudding.
As I write this column, our hospitals are nearing capacity because of respiratory illnesses like the flu and respiratory syncytial virus. The good news is that we already know how to reduce the spread of these conditions, but I have to warn you: it isn’t very thrilling. There is nothing groundbreaking or brand new about the ways that we keep people out of the hospital. And honestly, that’s why they are so easy to ignore.
So, here it is:
1. Wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
2. Sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands.
3. Stay home and away from others if you’re sick.
4. If you have to be around others when sick, wear a mask.
5. Get a flu shot and a bivalent COVID-19 booster.
I know that you’re probably sick of hearing about these basic hygiene tips. But if there is one lesson that we learned over and over again during the pandemic, it’s that one person’s health behaviors can absolutely impact their friends, neighbors and loved ones – sometimes with deadly consequences. I can hear you nodding and saying, “Okay Dr. Rose, I already do all of those things. How else can I help?”
You have tremendous power to make a difference in the health of our community. When we did surveys at our COVID-19 vaccine clinics, we found that the number one way people heard about the clinic or decided to get vaccinated was from friends or family. You can be an excellent model to the people around you. If you already got your flu shot, brag about it.
You can post about how easy it was on your favorite social media platform. Snap a picture of yourself doing that classic Rosie the Riveter pose with your bivalent COVID-19 booster BandAid and send it to a few people. Maybe offer some of your hand sanitizer to your friends when eating at a restaurant. Do you know someone on the fence about getting their booster? Give them a ride to get the shot so they have a buddy with them.
With the holidays coming up, you may be spending more time with older adults, pregnant people, babies or those with compromised immune systems in enclosed spaces. The data from the past few years shows that there are often spikes in COVID-19 cases around this time – likely due to traveling and big gatherings. This is the perfect time to brush up on your basic healthy habits to keep everyone safe from COVID-19, flu, RSV and even the common cold. Your family will thank you for not passing the germs when you pass the stuffing.
The writer is the director of the Alexandria Health Department.