Health experts urge masks, vaccines ahead of holiday gatherings amid surge in respiratory viruses

Georgia is experiencing a wave of COVID-19 cases, high influenza activity and the respiratory virus RSV. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

COVID-19 hospitalizations are trending up for another week in Georgia. Health officials recommend wearing a mask for safety— not just from the coronavirus, but also to help protect against influenza and RSV as the country’s “tripledemic” of respiratory viruses continues.

The updated guidance on indoor mask wearing from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was announced as nearly all states have at least one county with medium or high COVID-19 community levels, including Georgia.

The CDC is urging the use of masks, especially in areas seeing high community levels, and for people aged 65 and older, those with certain chronic medical conditions, and pregnant women.

I do know that right now in this country and really around the world, we’ve been saying a lot of this messaging for the last three years and people want to be done. I certainly would love to be in a place where we don’t track Covid numbers the way that we have to right now to really monitor severe disease and to monitor death,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said this week. “But we are still in that place. And so we are really calling for people to roll up their sleeves and do the prevention things that work.”

Georgia is reporting more hospitalizations for COVID-19 this week over the week before, and coronavirus patients occupy around 6 percent of hospital beds around the state.

Cases and hospitalizations are also up nationally.

To help more people avoid severe disease and ending up in already overburdened hospitals during the spike in respiratory viruses, Walensky continued to encourage people who are unvaccinated or undervaccinated to get up to date on their coronavirus vaccines and booster shots.

We are in a place in this country where almost every COVID-19 infection should not be possible and certainly not lead to death. We have a bivariant vaccine that, if used, should prevent severe disease and should prevent death, and should one get infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated, we have oral antivirals that, again, prevent severe disease and prevent death,” said Walensky.

Influenza activity in Georgia remains high. Numbers from the Georgia Department of Public Health show there have been at least 1,367 flu hospitalizations and at least 30 flu-related deaths since mid-October.

The outbreak of the respiratory virus RSV also continues to ripple across Georgia, though the CDC noted this week the virus’ spread may finally be starting to slow down in the South after filling up pediatric hospitals throughout the fall.

Still, with the three viruses causing many similar symptoms, the CDC is urging people to get tested, seek medical treatment and stay home when sick.

DPH also urges Georgians to get a flu shot before gathering indoors for holiday celebrations. The vaccine offers the best defense from severe illness or flu complications.

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