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Pasadena’s New Interim Public Health Officer Discusses Possible Holiday COVID Surge

Published on Friday, October 21, 2022 | 6:00 am

The number of coronavirus cases in California have steadily declined over the last few months. But the upcoming holiday season and winter months have emerged as a cause for concern.

Following a spike in cases in Europe since mid-September, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the Los Angeles Times that “throughout the pandemic, trends and cases in Europe have served as a predictor for trending cases in the United States.” 

Ferrer added that we should all be prepared for a surge. 

In Pasadena, Interim Public Health Officer Dr. Eric Handler said while it is difficult to predict the probability of a COVID-19 holiday surge, “active surveillance and having the community vaccinated with the bivalent booster would help minimize a serious surge” should it occur.

Based on the data supporting each of these authorizations, the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines are expected to provide increased protection against the currently circulating variants.

COVID Surge in Winter

Studies have shown that the airborne transmission of viruses increases during the winter months, because people spend more time indoors and it is usually too cold to keep windows open.

In winter, the air is also drier, especially in heated indoor spaces. Dry air damages the linings of the respiratory tract and can make it easier for viruses to get into it. 

It also means smaller aerosols — droplets, including those that could carry the coronavirus — float in the air for longer periods of time. So airborne transmission of COVID-19 is expected to be more common during the winter months.

“Research is still evolving, but there is some evidence that the virus dies when exposed to certain levels of UV light, making it harder to spread during the sunny summer months as opposed to winter,” Dr. Bernadette Boden-Albala, director and founding dean of the Program in Public Health at the University of California, Irvine, told Healthline in March.

The CDC’s Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also said she expects COVID-19 to become a seasonal illness that ebbs and flows with the weather.

Pasadena’s Health Officer said that the City’s Health Dept. is currently monitoring for variants that have the potential to create another surge. 

“The SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has proven its ability to mutate and cause variants that can lead to re-infection. We are currently monitoring for variants that have the potential to create another surge. At this time, it is still omicron and its descendants that are the predominant variants,” Handler said. 

Keeping Safe This Holiday Season

With the third pandemic holiday season around the corner, Handler recommended safety guidelines to keep Pasadenans healthy this winter.

“Persons interested in traveling over the holidays should be up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster and flu vaccine. When indoors, especially when it is crowded, consider masking based on your risk and the environmental risk,” Handler added. 

For holiday parties, when friends and family gather, Handler recommends the hosts should request everyone be fully vaccinated and boosted and ask that they test for COVID-19 the day of the gathering.

“When possible, hold gatherings outdoors,” he said. 

When planning gatherings, hosts should also consider the needs of people who may be at higher risk for severe disease due to COVID-19 or the flu, such as older adults or those who are immunocompromised.

Finally, Pasadena residents should prepare for a bad flu season this year, Dr. Handler warned.

“If you are 65 or older, we are recommending the concentrated flu vaccine,” Handler said. “It appears the current vaccine is effective against the current circulation flu virus. Populations vulnerable for COVID-19 infection are also vulnerable for flu infection.” 

Although most people consider the pandemic done and dealt with, Handler warns that there are still substantial levels of COVID infections in Pasadena.

“In the Los Angeles area, including Pasadena,  we still have substantial levels of COVID-19 infections and continue to see deaths due to COVID-19.”

“It certainly is not over and will continue to be present for years. Improvements in the vaccines, and supportive treatments have continually reduced the number of hospitalizations and deaths but COVID-19 still poses a health threat. Taking prevention measures based on your personal risk is still a good idea,” Handler said. 

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