Pandemic is Not Over, and Adjustments are Here to Say
With the world becoming more active during this “Open Summer of 2021” following months of closure during the pandemic, there are two very major points WCHD (Will County Health Department) would like to make.
The first is that the pandemic itself is not over. Vaccinations are still available (please go to https://willcountyhealth.org/vaccine-locations/ ), with many families working on vaccinations for kids age 12 to 15, and also hoping that a vaccine for those under 12 will be available soon.
Research is continuing into whether boosters for the COVID-19 vaccine will be needed in the future. And with the battle against variants continuing, the question of the evolution of the COVID-19 virus, and whether or not annual vaccinations for it will be needed someday, is still unanswered.
As long as COVID-19 remains in existence, turning ourselves back mentally to living life as if it never existed is simply not feasible. For example, the often talked about Delta variant concerns scientists because it has been determined to be 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, and 50% more transmissible than the Wuhan strain.
However, CDC studies have shown that the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer vaccines are all substantially effective in preventing both hospitalization and death from the Delta variant. In fact, WCHD epidemiologist Alpesh Patel says the concern about the Delta variant simply means that getting vaccinated is more important than ever.
“Yes, we should be concerned, as the Delta variant is more contagious and may be associated with a higher risk of hospitalization than the original COVID-19 strain,” Patel explained. “But studies show that, for example, two doses of the Pfizer shots are 88% effective against the Delta variant. VACCINATION IS STILL THE KEY TO PREVENTING WIDESPREAD TRANSMISSION.”
For the latest on the Delta or other variants, with information being updated frequently, please search “CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) / COVID Variants.”
WCHD Executive Director Sue Olenek says that the second major point right now is no matter what happens with future discoveries concerning COVID-19 and its variants, one thing is for certain. WE SHOULD NEVER GO BACK TO ACTING LIKE COVID-19 NEVER EXISTED. So many “new things” that have come into our lives; like life-changing technologies, for example; have become a fixed part of our lives forever. And COVID-19 falls under that same category: Life as we knew it before will never return.
Olenek says that for this “Open Summer of 2021,” little things can be done to maintain caution against a still active virus. “If you are having a family cookout, for example, try to keep everyone outside. And if you are sick for any reason, do not think you have to be tough and go to work. Instead, stay home until you are well, and follow this same philosophy when your kids are sick.”
After last year’s cancellation of the Will County Fair due to the pandemic, the Will County Health Department will be back at this year’s fair, from August 25th through 29th, offering information on WCHD programs.
More than anything else, Olenek says, what is needed now is a proactive “get healthy – stay healthy” approach. Simply put, let’s take control. Instead of waiting for mainstream news to pick up on the latest positive health trend or negative health threat, seek out the information beforehand. Make it a habit, perhaps on a weekly basis, to go to the WCHD website at www.willcountyhealth.org, IDPH’s (Illinois Department of Public Health) at www.dph.illinois.gov, or CDC’s at www.cdc.gov. “This way,” Olenek explained, “you and your family can be informed, prepared, and adjust your lifestyles and routines where needed.”
Olenek also says that the best protection against anything remains GETTING HEALTHY AND STAYING HEALTHY. “Don’t let yourself be a target for ANY kind of viruses, germs, or bacteria. First, watch your diet, weight, and physical activity; along with hydration, eating, and sleeping habits. Also, let’s continue to wash our hands more often, and make healthy choices like we have always known we should. And of course, keep up to date on your family’s vaccinations.
“Second,” Olenek continued, “take all the precautionary habits we have learned from COVID-19 and keep doing them. It’s still good to use hand sanitizer often, not to share drinks and eating utensils, and yes, practice logical social distancing. When in line at the store, we don’t have to crowd up against the person in front of us. Let’s give each other some healthy room.”
Expanding on the “continue pandemic precautions” point, Olenek says wearing masks should not be something we put in the past forever. Instead, we should make it a habit to use them whenever the situation calls for it. “If we must run an errand, but we feel some symptoms of a cold coming on, let’s put a mask on while we are out to protect others. Then, turning the situation around, let’s keep a mask with us at all times to protect ourselves. Suppose you are on a plane and someone near you, who does not seem healthy, is constantly coughing, sneezing, or talking. You can simply take out your mask and put it on for protection.”
And finally when it comes to masks, Olenek says let’s make it a point that from here on out, if we see someone wearing a mask, be respectful and realize they are doing it for a good reason. “There should never be a stigma about wearing a mask for protection. How do we know what a person’s reason might be? For example, they may live with someone who is immunocompromised, and they do not want to catch anything that could easily be passed on. Or anytime during the flu season, masks can be extremely helpful. Instead of using them as an exception, let’s use them as a rule when we feel it can help us or others.”
When it comes to our daily health year ‘round, and the post-pandemic battles that many of our families continue to experience, please remember that the Will County Health Department is available for you; with branch locations in Joliet, Bolingbrook, and Monee.
For example, the Behavioral Health division is keeping their eyes on stresses magnified by the pandemic. Adults are especially advised to both watch their children for possible struggles, and watch their elderly parents and relatives as well. For information on WCHD Behavioral Health services, please go to https://willcountyhealth.org/behavioral-health/.
The WCCHC (Will County Community Health Center) is available to provide medical, dental, and specialized services for all Will County families no matter their financial situation. For more on WCCHC programs, please go to https://willcountyhealth.org/chc/.
The WCHD Family Health Services division assists families with very important health maintenance, from the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program found at https://willcountyhealth.org/women-infant-and-children-wic/); to Immunizations found at https://willcountyhealth.org/immunizations/.
WCHD Family Health Services also offers help with stopping smoking and tobacco addictions, found at https://willcountyhealth.org/tobacco-control-and-prevention/; and assistance with sexually transmitted disease and HIV concerns at https://willcountyhealth.org/hiv-std-and-prep-clinic/.
If you are traveling out of the country during this “open summer” or at any time, please contact the WCHD Travel Immunizations clinic to help you have a safe trip. They will determine if there are any disease outbreaks where you are going, and provide the vaccine that you need. Please find them at https://willcountyhealth.org/travel-immunizations/.
In addition, WCHD Environmental Health has been very busy during the pandemic inspecting allegedly dangerous situations reported by Will County residents. They continue to be available to check out any situations that residents believe may be unhealthy, such as their regular inspections of restaurants; and annual services that include mosquito/WNV monitoring, radon gas awareness, and swimming pool and beach inspections. Environmental Health is available at https://willcountyhealth.org/environmental-health/.