Holidays Spark Concerns of Possible COVID Surge

First published in the Nov. 18 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

As California continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic largely resulting from having a majority of its population vaccinated against the disease, people are reverting back to normalcy.
A return to holiday traditions was evident on Halloween with more trick-or-treaters out on the streets, and with more gatherings being planned for the Thanksgiving holiday. Though COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are lower in California compared to last year, health and government officials still worry about the possibility of a winter surge similar to 2020.
“As we enter into a season where our past is prologue, we should anticipate an increase of cases, an increase of hospitalizations, an increase of people in [intensive care units] and, tragically the likelihood — if we don’t take seriously this moment — an increase in the number of people who lose their lives,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said while at a vaccine clinic in Kings County on Tuesday. “This virus, this disease, is not taking the winter off. It’s coming back in force. … I don’t say that to alarm people; I don’t say that for any other reason than to level with folks.”
La Cañada Flintridge has one of the highest vaccination rates in Los Angeles County with more than 86% of residents 12 and older having received at least one dose of the vaccine and 80.6% fully inoculated.
LCF school officials expressed cautious optimism that the high vaccination rate is mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping students in class, and encouraged parents to vaccinate children 5-11 years old now that they are eligible as well.
“My request is not political, it is not meant to polarize, but it is my job as superintendent and for us to emphasize that we need to keep our schools open, we need to keep students in attendance and we need kids to be progressing through a very robust and rigorous educational program,” La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said at a Governing Board meeting on Tuesday. “And in order to do that, we need to negate the virus wherever possible. So, we encourage vaccines for our 5- to 11-year-olds now that they’re eligible, and for the continuance of vaccinations for 12 and older.”
LCUSD held a “very successful” COVID-19 vaccine clinic for children 5-11 and older last Saturday, where more than 729 shots were administered, with 639 of those given to children 5 and older, Sinnette said.
“We appreciate the community’s responsiveness and we would like to continue to encourage our families to get vaccinated and participate in all of the possibilities to help mitigate the COVID 19 transmission,” she added.
Following the Thanksgiving break, school officials are encouraging testing to help prevent the “winter surge.” There will be free COVID testing for the community on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at school sites.
Meanwhile, Newsom expressed concern despite announcing that 90.5% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. He said health officials are anticipating “more stress” going into the winter because of waning immunity and a large percentage of the population yet to be vaccinated.
The state upped its defense against a possible surge by announcing that all adults are now eligible for the booster, clearing up any confusion from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on booster eligibility.
The announcement comes just two weeks after the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use of a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5-11, and Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County director of public health, echoed the governor in encouraging families to get the shot because unvaccinated individuals are seven times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 and 44 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.
According to L.A. County Public Health officials, “The death rate among vaccinated people remains very low and nearly flat” and “deaths among unvaccinated people continue to remain exponentially higher.” They backed up the claim by saying that data from October showed the risk of death was 60 times higher among unvaccinated people than among those who are inoculated, and those who haven’t received COVID-19 shot should take extra precaution going into the holiday.
“As Thanksgiving approaches, those still not fully vaccinated need to take extra precautions,” Ferrer said in a statement on Tuesday. “With relatively high rates of community transmission, unvaccinated young people are vulnerable to becoming infected and spreading infection to others, creating additional risk for holiday gatherings. Don’t inadvertently host COVID this Thanksgiving. If you aren’t vaccinated, get tested and stay masked if you are around non-household people this Thanksgiving.”
County health officials said the safest way to celebrate is to celebrate with members of your own household and virtually with other family and friends.
For the majority of people who will be gathering in person, the county recommends — first and foremost — those individuals eligible for the vaccine receive their first dose as soon as possible, as well as a flu shot. If you are feeling sick, have symptoms or have tested positive for COVID, do not host or attend an in-person gathering.
Health officials also urge those who are not vaccinated to take extra precautions, such as planning for a COVID-19 test as close to the event as possible and staying local for holiday gatherings.
It is also recommended that gatherings stay small — to avoid mixing many different families – and be held outdoors.
“If you can, plan to have at least the drinks and meal outside,” county health officials advised. “If outdoors isn’t possible or practical, improve the air flow indoors. Open windows and doors, use fans and portable air cleaners, run heating and air. Be sure to upgrade or replace air filters.”
Wearing face masks when indoors, except when eating and drinking, is encouraged, as well as social distancing and frequent hand washing.

— Camila Castellanos contributed to this report.