Alexandria, VA

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Dr. Stephen Haering, Alexandria’s Health Department Director.

One of the most common questions we receive at Alexandria Health Department (AHD) is how to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in our community. To start, we need to acknowledge some hard truths, including that we never truly left the first wave.

Across the U.S., COVID-19 cases are spiking. In Wisconsin, they are building field hospitals in parking lots to accommodate the overflow from hospitals that have run out of beds. Even in northern Virginia, our region has moved from “low” to “approaching substantial” community transmission, which means that our cases are increasing steadily. And although most Alexandrians have been taking the right precautions, we’re approaching a dangerous confluence of events–including flu season and holiday gatherings–that threaten our community’s safety.

So, how do we stem the tide and bring our community back to low levels of transmission? First, the easiest step: get your flu shot. It’s not too late for you and your whole family to check that off your list. Almost all healthcare providers and pharmacies carry the flu shot, and if you have health insurance, it is free. If you don’t have insurance, schedule an appointment at Alexandria Health Department (call 703.746.4888). COVID-19 shares many of the same symptoms as the flu, and it is possible for you to contract both illnesses at the same time.

Second, choose lower risk activities to celebrate Thanksgiving and the upcoming December holidays. Travelling for celebrations is a hallmark of these holidays but is especially risky with the COVID-19 increases across the country. If you can’t avoid travelling, know your travel risk and consider getting tested both before and after traveling, particularly if you are visiting or returning home to someone at high risk of severe illness. Keep in mind that the virus can take between 2-14 days to incubate. AHD recommends that you wait about 7-10 days after a gathering or travel to get tested.

Finally, maintain the momentum. As we’ve said from the beginning, this pandemic response is a marathon. However, with all the stressors from uncertainty, managing households on tighter budgets, and the racial and social injustice that have been exacerbated, it feels like we’re all operating at a sprint pace. It’s incredibly difficult for all of us to maintain the required vigilance for wearing masks, keeping our physical distance, and quarantining when identified as a close contact. But we can’t let this COVID-19 fatigue move us into a complacency that spreads illness — we need to remind each other, with compassion, that we all need maintain our 6-foot distances, consistently and correctly wear facemasks, sanitize hands and surfaces frequently, and stay away from others when ill.

We get it. You’re over COVID-19 and all the public health guidance that goes along with it. I wish there was an easy solution that I could summarize in a quip. Or even that the introduction of a vaccine would solve all our concerns. But my job isn’t to provide Alexandrians with false reassurances or empty promises. My job is to protect and promote health and wellbeing in our community. Alexandria Health Department carries out that work by following our public health justice principles to prioritize science-based recommendations, focus resources on saving lives, and engage and empower Alexandrians most in need. We can get through this pandemic but it will take all of us doing our part for our community.

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