Guest Column by Northampton Board of Health: ‘We are all in this together’

  • A syringe is prepared with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. AP PHOTO/MATT ROURKE

Published: 12/23/2021 6:45:06 AM
Modified: 12/23/2021 6:44:50 AM

The Northampton Board of Health is increasingly concerned by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within Northampton, Hampshire County, and Massachusetts. We continue to see rising cases, mostly by the delta variant and anticipate the spread of omicron, an even more transmissible variant, over the next few weeks.

Our local hospital staffing has been stretched due to an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 in addition to the need to care for patients with other needs. As we consider gathering indoors with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, the board strongly urges Northampton residents, visitors, and businesses to do everything possible that they/you can, to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

These include:

Keep your gatherings small. The more households that are involved, the more likely someone in attendance may have and (unwittingly) be spreading the virus.

■Don’t go if you are sick, and don’t allow people with symptoms to join your party. Early symptoms may be mild, such as a new stuffy nose or scratchy throat, especially for those who are vaccinated.

■Consider testing before gathering. If home testing is available to you (they cost about $20 for 2 tests), have everyone test on the day of the event. Home tests may be available in a local pharmacy and online. There are also a number of new free PCR testing sites. See https://bit.ly/3qggt5d.

■Wear a high-quality mask (N-95 or KN-95 is best) when indoors in public places or outdoors in large gatherings where safe distancing cannot be maintained. This is currently mandated in Northampton and many surrounding communities. The order includes bars and restaurants when guests are not actively eating or drinking. You may also choose to mask at a private event and forgo the snacks and drinks. Masks work!

■Get vaccinated and boosted. Vaccination is the single best way to protect your own health, as vaccination strongly protects against hospitalization and death for all variants. It is anticipated that being “fully vaccinated” but not boosted will result in very little protection against symptomatic disease (and therefore transmission) with omicron, so getting boosted can help both you and your community. Anyone aged 16 or older whose original mRNA series was 6 or more months ago or whose J&J vaccine was two months or more ago, are eligible for a booster. mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) are preferred for boosters.

■Require vaccination (and boosters) for your employees or volunteers if you are a business owner or leader of an organization, except for those with valid medical or religious exemptions. The board also recommends that you provide paid time off for employees to receive the vaccine and to recuperate from potential short term vaccine side effects.

■Take extra precautions around those at highest risk of severe disease, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. To this end, effective January 17, 2022, the board is adding a vaccination requirement for the visitors and members of the Northampton Senior Center.

Vaccines are available through the Northampton Health Department or at many local pharmacies free of charge. Additional information regarding local vaccination and COVID testing programs can be found on the Northampton Health Department website at https://bit.ly/3ej1x0N.

We all wish this pandemic would disappear as quickly as it arrived, but unfortunately it is here to stay for a while more. Please play your part in making Northampton a safer place — we are all in this together. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

Northampton Board of Health includes: Joanne Levin, M.D., chair; Laurent Levy, Ph.D.;  Suzanne Smith, M.D.; and Cynthis Suopis, Ph.D.
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