COVID, Flu Advice From CA Doctors: Should I Meet Inside?
For the past three years, the holidays have been clouded by concerns about the pandemic. Now, with COVID, flu and RSV circulating What should people keep in mind in meetings?
The Sacramento Bee service journalism team posed the same questions to three California hospitals. The following doctors provided responses via email:
Dr. Matthew Eldridge, chief of infectious diseases at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento
Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis
- Dr. Namrita Gogia, vice president of internal medicine and COVID-19 zara at Dignity Health
Here is what they had to say:
The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Is it safe to meet indoors or should we go outside?
Eldridge: Meeting outdoors is safer than indoors; If there’s an indoor gathering, you want the space to be well ventilated: open doors and windows, run HVAC systems, and install high-quality air filters. Correctly worn masks remain an effective option to reduce the risk of respiratory viral infections.
Blumberg: Outdoor events will be safer, but this may be inconvenient or not feasible due to the weather.
Gogia: I think it really depends on how much risk each individual and family is willing to tolerate. In general, I think it’s reasonable to meet indoors.
Is a potluck-style gathering safe?
Eldridge: Potluck style can be done safely, but you may want to limit everyone touching the same food, and of course people should wash their hands before eating.
Blumberg: No problem. COVID and influenza are primarily transmitted via the respiratory route, and RSV is transmitted through large droplets, which means that touching contaminated serving utensils can lead to transmission. But food is not a risk for the transmission of these viruses. To reduce the risk of RSV transmission, you can carry a small container of hand sanitizer with you and use after serving yourself with shared utensils before eating.
Gogia: A lot of the illnesses we’re seeing this season are respiratory illnesses, so if the food is served potluck style or on plates, it should be fine.
If someone is sick with the flu, not COVID, should they get together?
Eldridge: If someone is sick with the flu, they can easily infect others. People with the flu should isolate at home until they have been fever-free for at least 24 hours.
Blumberg: No way. Influenza is not a treatment and can cause serious illness or death. Influenza sufferers should stay home until clinically better and fever-free for at least 24 hours, usually 4-5 days after symptom onset.
Gogia: It is recommended that those who are not feeling well or have any upper respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, cough, fever, chills, nausea, body aches or sore throat, stay home.
What advice do you have for those who organize a festive gathering?
Eldridge: In terms of how to gather safely, the same approaches that were relevant to COVID in recent years still apply. As noted by public health agencies, there are clear ways to reduce the spread of disease or lessen the severity of illness.
- Receive the annual flu vaccine and COVID boosters. These are fine to receive at the same time.
- Stay home if you are sick or feel unwell, and be sure to get tested for COVID
- wash your hands often
- Consider getting tested for COVID before meeting
- If you gather indoors, try opening windows and doors to ensure good airflow through the room. Consider running the HVAC system with high-quality air filters.
- Flu testing is not recommended for everyone, but it is important for certain high-risk groups. Talk to your provider if you are not sure if you should be tested for the flu. The RSV test is not necessary for most people.
Blumberg: Make sure everyone at home is fully vaccinated with the indicated boosters for COVID and flu, and ask that your guests be fully vaccinated as well. Anyone who has a fever or respiratory symptoms should opt out of the gathering so that others are not at risk of infection. For those who want to further reduce risk, request that all attendees be tested for COVID on the day of the event to ensure those with asymptomatic infection stay away to further reduce transmission.
Gogia: This holiday season, I encourage my patients to gather with family, friends and loved ones. With that being said, no one wants to host a super spreader event! Hosts may consider asking attendees to refrain from attending if they have any upper respiratory symptoms. If possible, hold the event outdoors or in an open area with good ventilation. In some situations, for example if an elderly or immunocompromised person will be attending, it may be ideal to ask event attendees to get tested in advance.
What are your tips for those who participate in Christmas parties and how should they prepare?
Eldridge: Same as above.
Blumberg: Be fully vaccinated and stay home if you are sick. For those who become symptomatic after a large gathering, quickly get tested for COVID, and if the COVID test is negative, then consider getting tested for influenza if you are interested in starting antiviral treatment, as it is more effective. if started within 48 hours. from the onset of symptoms. (And for those who may be drinking a lot, stay hydrated!)
Gogia: After the event, if they develop any symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, they should stay home and get tested for COVID-19. They can do a rapid test at home when symptoms start and, if negative, retest in 48 hours to reduce the risk of missing an infection and passing it on to others.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Eldridge: We encourage everyone on an individual level to do what they can to protect themselves and others. We urge people to get their flu shots and their COVID-19 shots/boosts, which continue to protect against serious illness and death. And we continue to recommend the use of masks and social distancing, especially during surges indoors among other people. These measures help protect the most vulnerable in our communities from the COVID-19 disease.
Blumberg: I didn’t mention masking for these situations, as it’s less practical when people are eating and drinking. But masking has also been shown to reduce the risk of COVID, influenza, and RSV, so it may be considered if feasible.
This story was originally published December 17, 2022 5:00 a.m.