First published in the Nov. 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
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 planned during the Thanksgiving holiday. Though COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are lower in California compared with the previous 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 as 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 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.”
As of this week, the county is reporting that 75.2% of Burbank’s residents 12 or older — around 70,571 people — have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That includes 69.6% of 12-17-year-old children and 83% of adults 65 and older.
The county is not yet reporting vaccination figures for 5- to 11-year-olds.
Newsom expressed his concerns, despite announcing that 90.5% of adults in California 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 the possible surge by announcing this week that all adults are now eligible for the booster, clearing up any confusion from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on individuals eligible for boosters.
The announcement comes 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 last month showed the risk of death was 60 times higher among unvaccinated people than among those who are inoculated, and those who have not received COVID-19 shot should take extra precautions 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.”
The county health department added that the safest way to celebrate is 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 COVID 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 the coronavirus, 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 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,” said the county health department. “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 indoors, except when eating and drinking, is encouraged, as well as social distancing and frequent hand washing and sanitizing.