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How To Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

A health worker wears a mask and gloves as she pulls a dose of COVID-19 vaccine from a vial.
A COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for use earlier this year at a vaccination event at Union Station in L.A.
( Frederic J. Brown
AFP via Getty Images)
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Americans will soon be celebrating the holiday season in a semi-normal way for the first time in two years. But it comes at a time when respiratory viruses are surging across the country — including here in Southern California.

What's Going On?

A trio of viruses (COVID-19, flu and RSV) has made for a difficult respiratory virus season already. Flu cases are high and climbing. RSV is sending babies and young children to intensive care, and Los Angeles County now has 100 COVID cases a week for every 100,000 residents, putting us in the "high" transmission category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How These Viruses Spread

All three viruses predominantly spread the same way — by coming into contact with respiratory droplets from the nose and throat of infected people that are expelled when they cough or sneeze. The typical advice still applies. Wear an N95 mask in public, especially in airports if you’re traveling.

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Why You Need to Get Vaccinated

Staying up to date on COVID vaccines will help you stay healthy and limit how sick you get if you are infected. People 5 years of age and older can receive a COVID bivalent booster which protects against BA.4 and BA.5, omicron subvariants that are responsible for the majority of current infection. For younger children only the primary series is available. There isn’t a vaccine for RSV, but washing hands and holding any gatherings outside as much as possible will help. For flu, the CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older receive a vaccine.

I Tested Positive For COVID. Now What?

First of all, don’t go to a party — you don’t want to infect anyone. Try to isolate yourself away from anyone you live with. Contact your health provider. You may be able to do a telehealth visit and skip the waiting room. Ask your health provider if treatments make sense, ideally in the first day or so. They both shorten the course and make it less severe. The antiviral paxlovid requires a prescription, and some adults may not be able to take it because it conflicts with common heart medications. Paxlovid pills are available nationwide as part of the federal government's 'test to treat' program.

Check For Extra Sick Time

Any full-time California employee of a company that has 26 or more workers has access to as much as two weeks paid time off for COVID-related sick leave, until the end of December. The law allows two 40-hour buckets of time, one for the employee and another if an employee’s family member tests positive. The two weeks do not need to be consecutive, and exhaustion of one is not required before using another. This temporary law ends Dec. 31.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.