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‘Make A COVID Safety Plan’: Health Officials Encourage Caution At Holiday Gatherings

Dr. Thomas Dobbs and Dr. Paul Byers
State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Paul Byers are encouraging Mississippians to do what they can to limit transmission of COVID-19 over the holiday season. Photo courtesy State of Mississippi

With the holiday season arriving and Thanksgiving imminent, public-health officials are encouraging Mississippians to gather responsibly and avoid spreading COVID-19, using a combination of vaccination, testing and other safety precautions to limit the threat of family transmission of the virus.

For those who are already vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control have recommended all adults get a booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine six months after their second shot to extend the vaccine’s protection against symptomatic transmission.

On Nov. 19, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Paul Byers joined representatives from the Mississippi State Medical Association to encourage Mississippians to limit their risk.

“We’re going into the holidays, and we’re worried about a rebound,” Dobbs said. “So one of the things we’re going to be doing is trying to get everybody to make a COVID safety plan.”

Everyone can take steps to reduce transmission relative to their own circumstances. “Obviously, part of that plan is being vaccinated,” Dobbs added, “but if you’re going out of town, know where you can get a test. Maybe bring a rapid test with you. You can get them at the pharmacy. Wherever you are in town, make sure you know where you can get monoclonal antibodies.”

Planning ahead—to test a family member with a suspicious cough or fever, or to locate monoclonal antibody treatment for someone who tests positive—could mean the difference between a single infection and a cluster, or a mild case of the disease and a hospitalization.

Beyond vaccinations, and a plan for testing and treating possible infections, the precautions against COVID-19 remain the same as they have since 2020. “Mask in public,” Dobbs advised. “If you’re going to be somewhere crowded and indoors it especially makes sense. Do things outdoors! It’s getting kind of cold, and that’s going to be hard to do, but (also) stay in smaller groups.” 

Booster Shots Now Available To All Adults

The FDA and the CDC have both approved widespread use of a booster vaccine for those who have already been vaccinated. While studies have shown the vaccines provide long-term protection against hospitalization and death, evidence has shown that antibodies preventing transmission of the virus weaken over time.

A six-month booster restores that antibody protection, providing strong protection against symptomatic transmission in previously vaccinated adults. Health officials explain that this protection against symptomatic transmission is especially valuable in protecting immunocompromised adults, whose immune systems may not respond well to the vaccine, leaving them more at risk of serious complications of COVID-19. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky encouraged adults to get boosted six months after their second shot. “Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays. Based on the compelling evidence, all adults over 18 should now have equitable access to a COVID-19 booster dose,” Walensky said in a statement.

“Certainly,” Dr. Byers added at the MSMA press event, “I think the messaging is more clear to the public. I think that it will probably lend itself to broader use of the booster.”

A Critical Winter

Transmission of COVID-19 in Mississippi remains low, although the downward decline of the virus following the unprecedented delta surge has tapered off into a plateau. Momentary, daily spikes have thus far failed to coalesce into sustained transmission of the virus. Experts identify a combination of vaccinations and natural immunity from prior infection as holding further transmission back.

Mississippi State Department of Health Leadership joined the Mississippi State Medical Association for a COVID-19 briefing on Nov. 19. Courtesy MSMA

MSDH announced 1,187 new cases of COVID-19 from the weekend, including Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While this is a high weekend number relative to some recent Monday reports, MSDH warned previously that earlier weekend data from some labs have been partially delayed, occasionally inflating Tuesday numbers.

Still, MSDH leadership have warned that another winter surge is still possible.

“When you synthesize the whole body of evidence, it looks like the immunity is about equivalent, but we do know that with natural infection your immune system does wane,” Dobbs warned.

“I think these next few weeks are going to be critical for us in seeing what the pandemic is going to look like as we get through the winter months,” Byers concluded.

Infections, as always, emerge days after transmission events, leaving the state to identify only in retrospect whether precautions were enough to prevent another surge of COVID-19.

“Please be safe,” Dobbs said. “And just remember how stressed our health systems are—be patient.”

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