By SHAWN MORRIS
Island County Public Health director
As students head back to school and we get ready for cooler temperatures, I’m writing to share prevention steps for a healthy fall season. Locally, we are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 infections, which aligns with national and state trends. The most recent data, including hospital admissions, test positivity and wastewater levels, shows moderate COVID-19 activity. We also expect cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, to rise as we head into fall. RSV is a common winter virus that causes mild cold-like illness but can be dangerous for infants, young children and older adults. The heaviest parts of flu season tend to occur between December and February in our region.
There are simple and effective strategies we can take to help decrease the spread of respiratory illness:
Staying home when sick prevents spread and decreases risks for vulnerable groups.
Other simple steps can help: washing hands for 20 seconds, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding sharing food and drinks, and wearing a well-fitting mask in crowded indoor environments.
Healthy lifestyle steps such as eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, managing stress, staying hydrated and getting quality sleep help keep our immune systems strong.
Staying up to date with immunizations helps prevent severe disease, and vaccination is especially important for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get an updated 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 illness. Updated COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will be available in the coming weeks. Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death, as well as symptoms of Long COVID, which can last months after infection. If you have not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 2 months, you are eligible to receive an updated 2023-24 COVID-19 once available.
The federal government recently approved the first RSV vaccines for people aged 60 and older. If you qualify, talk with your provider about getting your RSV vaccine based on your individual risk factors for severe disease from RSV infection.
Although there is no RSV immunization for infants, children under 8 months and some older children can receive an advance antibody treatment to prevent severe illness. Parents can discuss this treatment option with their pediatrician.
This year’s flu vaccine shots are now available, and it’s best to get your family immunized by October.
This is the first fall and winter virus season where vaccines are available for the three viruses responsible for most hospitalizations—COVID-19, RSV, and flu. In addition to immunizations, at-home tests for COVID-19 can identify infection so you can protect your family, coworkers, and vulnerable community members. If you do get COVID-19, talk to your doctor about proven, effective treatments that can reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
Keep an eye on community levels of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, as well as guidance from Public Health. Public Health is here to support our community members and partner organizations, and we wish everyone a safe and healthy fall season.
Shawn Morris, ND, serves as the Island County Public Health Director, guiding programs and services related to community and environmental health. A graduate of the University of Washington and Bastyr University, he has experience in direct patient care and working collaboratively to improve population health. To learn more about Island County Public Health, visit our website at www.islandcountywa.gov/174/Public-Health.