OPINION | Editorial: Follow simple rules to keep COVID out your hol…

This far into a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 5,600 New Mexicans, it’s probably futile to expect a sudden shift in how people go about their daily lives.

But the holidays loom as a potent threat to the health of many. Christmas and New Year’s Eve bring together all the factors that health experts warn optimize the spread of the COVID variants — an abundance of people from different households (many who traveled from other states) breathing the same air in a confined indoor space.

With the highly transmissible omicron variant now detected in the state, it’s important to follow the same common-sense guidelines that have been in place since the early stages of the pandemic.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Get a COVID-19 vaccine/booster as soon as you can.

• Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth to help protect yourself and others.

• Stay 6 feet apart from others who don’t live with you.

• Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

• Test to prevent spread to others. Use a self-test before attending indoor gatherings that include non-household members. If you are hosting a gathering, consider asking your guests to self-test before attending.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.

With a Christmas daytime high of 60 degrees forecast, consider opening windows to let some fresh air into the gathering or setting up a table and some chairs outdoors near a patio heater to create a much safer outdoor gathering.

Remember, the virus can be spread even among the fully vaccinated, so wear a mask around those who aren’t members of the immediate household. You don’t know how many COVID clouds your cousin Joe from North Carolina passed through on his way to your mom’s house.

After several weeks of rising COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations due to the highly contagious delta variant, New Mexico last week saw a decrease in the number of new confirmed cases over a weeklong period. The state’s positivity rate had declined from 13.9% as of Dec. 6 to 9.5% as of Dec. 20.

While that’s good news, it’s most certainly transitory. The presence of omicron has state health officials bracing for a new pandemic phase, and 48 deaths were reported Tuesday alone. How safely people celebrate the holidays will go a long way toward determining how badly cases spike in early 2022.

One of the lessons of New Mexico’s recent surge in COVID infections is what a difference vaccines make. While the recent spread of COVID-19 variants has led to an increase of fully vaccinated New Mexicans testing positive for COVID-19, unvaccinated individuals still make up the majority of those who contract the virus and are hospitalized for it.

During a four-week period that ended Dec. 13, unvaccinated people made up 72% of new cases recorded statewide and 81.2% of those hospitalized. In addition, of the 141 deaths attributed to COVID-19 during that time period, 115 — or 81.6% — were unvaccinated and 18.4% were fully vaccinated.

That means New Mexicans who are not fully vaccinated had a seven times higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than fully vaccinated individuals, according to New Mexico Department of Health data.

As of Dec. 20, roughly 31.8% of New Mexicans 18 and older had gotten a vaccine booster, according to DOH data. In all, 88% of adults statewide have received at least one vaccine dose, while 75.4% completed their initial vaccine series.

Now is the time — while school-aged children are on break — to get vaccination numbers up for those younger than 18.

The website, https://vaccinenm.org/public-calendar.html, administered by DOH, shows every location in the state where shots are being offered, with click-on links to schedule an appointment.

The holidays are a time of charity and giving. Unfortunately, for some, the holiday will be marked by giving someone else the virus if we’re not smart about celebrating. An ounce of prevention between now and Jan. 1 will save a lot of misery, if not actual lives. The best gift any of us can give or receive this holiday season is continued good health.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.