How to stay healthy amid RTO, back-to-school

Personal work and study are in full effect as many Americans return to the office and back to schools this month.

But for many people, the spread of Covid, flu and other infectious diseases means personal health and safety remain the top priority.

The CDC reports that the daily average of new Covid cases in the US is over 65,000. And the total death toll from the virus hit 1 million in May — all while other diseases like monkeypox and polio are resurfacing in different parts of the country.

Preventive measures at the individual level like vaccinations and masks can be a great protection for students and workers this fall, says Eddie Stenehjem, Infectious Disease Specialist at Intermountain Healthcare.

How to stay healthy during back to school, RTO

Get your Covid-19 Vaccine Boosters

Adults and children over the age of five who have already received the primary Covid vaccine series and original booster shots are almost as protected as they can be.

The only additional precautions recommended for this group are:

“I assume that these [omicron-specific boosters and flu shots] can be administered simultaneously,” says Stenehjem.

The CDC approved receiving a Covid-19 vaccine and a flu shot at the same time.

“There is no recommended waiting period between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines,” the agency wrote.

However, it’s important to note that the CDC has not yet recommended getting a flu shot at the same time as a booster shot with an Omicron component, although pharmacies like Walgreens have made it an option.

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Stay up to date on other important vaccinations

“Now is the time to really assess whether you are up to date with all your vaccines, regardless of your age,” Stenehjem says. “Of course, this also includes Covid-19 [and] Influenza, but it also involves preventive health vaccinations that you would normally receive.

Vaccinations that the CDC recommends for adults include: polio, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), and tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough (Tdap).

Contact your doctor to confirm that you have received your child’s vaccinations and for instructions on next steps for any missing vaccinations.

According to Stenehjem, if their streak is ongoing, parents should continue to get their children vaccinated against polio on the normal schedule.

assess risk

Although it’s an individual decision, Stenehjem recommends a risk assessment – which asks people to consider personal risk, community risk and exposure risk, as well as the steps one can take to mitigate or prevent the spread of a communicable disease .

First, check your community’s case counts for circulating diseases, Stenehjem adds.

Epidemiology is local, and knowing what’s happening around you can better assess your susceptibility to transmission of viruses like Covid, influenza, monkeypox and polio.

“It’s not just about looking at the epidemiology in the United States, but also the epidemiology where you live and based on that your interventions,” says Stenehjem.

Factors to consider when deciding whether or not to mask up in the office include:

  • the amount of face-to-face interaction you expect with your colleagues
  • the likelihood of contracting a virus such as Covid or the flu
  • the likelihood of serious outcomes for you or your family and friends if one of you becomes ill
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Mitigating risk also means staying at home when you are sick, even if you have not specifically tested positive for Covid-19. The aim is to reduce the transmission of all infectious diseases, says Stenehjem.

Although this can be difficult for those without childcare or available sick days, he notes.

Ideally, employers and school administrators should establish work-from-home policies and distance learning options as a preventive measure, Stenehjem says.

He also adds that improved ventilation to filter the air from virus particles in common spaces would also help protect against a virus like Covid-19.

“We should all have an interest in public health and we should all care about the well-being of others,” says Stenehjem.

“This does not only apply to the transmission of Covid-19. This affects the transmission of influenza, cold and the like.”

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