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Keeping Health Workers Safe from COVID-19 and Flu This Winter

Compared to this time last year, winter 2022 seems more ordinary to the public than what they expect during a public health crisis. Indeed, shared spaces are open, face masks are less common and COVID-19 hospitalization rates are lower than they were a year ago. However, Community Health Workers are right to point out this “normalcy” does not mean respiratory illnesses are no longer a threat. In addition to COVID-19 and seasonal flu, Community Health Workers have been leading families through a harsh outbreak of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) filling up beds in pediatric care units across Illinois. Looming overhead are forecasts from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services of a COVID-19 case surge later this winter. The severity of this surge is unclear, but the bulletin serves as reminder that mindfulness and mitigation efforts are necessary to protect communal health and wellbeing. Winter in the United States often means more indoor social gatherings, travel and favorable conditions for viruses to incubate and spread. These trends mean our communities and those who serve them need to stay mindful of their own health and safety to keep up with the demand for care and services still to come. Here are a few ways clinical and community health workers can protect themselves from illness this winter:

Stay Current on Vaccinations

· Find COVID-19 vaccines and Flu shot appointments >> · COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility and Scheduling Recommendations, per the CDC >> · Obtain personal vaccination records on file with the Illinois Dept. of Public Health >> Just over 10 percent of eligible Illinois residents had received an “updated booster” COVID-19 vaccine by November 1, according to data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available now to anyone at least five years old, the booster includes proteins found in the highly transmissible COVID-19 omicron strains that swept through the United States this past year. It cannot be overstated how important COVID-19 vaccines are to promoting strong community health, but disinformation and vaccine hesitancy still abound. Community Health Workers throughout Illinois are prepared to assist anyone not up to date with CDC vaccine guidelines to find doses nearby regardless of their insurance status. Health care workers are not required by the State of Illinois to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but the preventive edge they provide has been well-documented. Many medical facilities expect their workers to be vaccinated for flu and COVID-19 and arrange workplace vaccine drives for employees. Contact the Illinois Public Health Association to learn about free mobile vaccine clinic options available.

Be Aware of Local Transmission Rates

· COVID-19 Transmission Rates by County >> · Travel Guidance from the Chicago Dept. of Public Health >> Face masking and social distancing requirements eased in 2022 as COVID-19 transmission rates dropped off. However, the CDC and state and local health authorities still recommend these practices in certain settings and situations, including in areas where transmission rates are “high.” Though many local health authorities are not providing daily public updates on COVID-19 infection rates, the CDC still provides this information based on data received from across the country. In turn, the CDC uses this data to alert the public when they should strongly consider wearing a well-fitting face mask to mitigate the spread of respiratory illness. This is a reliable source of information for event planner, local authorities, and holiday travelers to utilize as they make plans this winter. Even if the CDC is not recommending face masks and social distancing, some local authorities, health care administrators and event planners may make that determination for their respective facility. For instance, some health care providers are still asking their staff and patients to wear a mask while they are within their medical setting. The CDC’s recommendations also say anyone with immunocompromising conditions should continue to exercise caution in confined spaces that host public gatherings.

Find Ways to Improve Indoor Ventilation

· CDC Recommendations on Building Ventilation >> · Best Ventilation Practices for Schools and Childcare Facilities >> · IPHA Health Posters, Flyers and Fact Sheets for Public Display >> Most respiratory illnesses are passed when a person comes in contact with air borne water droplets. In warmer months, some Ideally, public gatherings would take place outdoors or hosts could simply open up their buildings to let in fresh air. But this is the Midwestern United States, the home of notoriously cold, blustery winters. Very rarely is that a practical solution. To offset these challenges, building managers and event planners are encouraged to find alternative solutions until the warmer months arrive. Good ventilation practices involve consistent air flow and occasionally passing it through filters or directing it outside and any contaminated water droplets with it. Exhaust fans have shown some success recycling air in a confined space, such as kitchens and bathrooms. If resources are available, some building managers have invested in HEPA filters, air cleaners and ultra-violet light systems to trap and eliminate contaminants from the air. Though many of these practices have shown some success in eliminating COVID-19 and flu virus cells, but no solution is 100-percent effective. COVID-19 cells are especially small, which makes eradicating them a tall order for any filtration system.

Have N95 Face Masks Available

· Locate Free N95 Face Masks >> In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, health care professionals, governments and private citizens scrambled over each other for a finite supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). At the top of every wish list were high quality N95 face masks because of their ability to trap the smallest cells, including the COVID-19 virus. As manufacturing and global trade returns to pre-pandemic level production, N95 face masks are available for free at public health agencies and commercial pharmacies. Even when transmission rates are low, keeping a supply of face masks on-hand – even tucked away in a backpack or purse – is not the worst idea in case you ever find yourself in a confined space.

Morreale Communications


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