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Health experts highlight risk of COVID, flu, RSV, as holiday gatherings get set to begin

Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Kevin Gutting
Daily Hampshire Gazette /
Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts.

An infectious disease expert at a western Massachusetts hospital is urging caution ahead of holiday gatherings.

COVID-19 is still out there, although case rates statewide are much lower than this time last year. The flu is on the rise. And, instances of the respiratory disease know as RSV, have spiked this fall, especially in children. All this comes as families get ready to gather to celebrate the upcoming holidays.

Joanne Levin is the medical director of infection prevention at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. She said people feeling under the weather should protect their loved ones.

"We know COVID can have relatively mild symptoms in may people, so if you have a new runny nose, new sore throat, new cough, fever, stay home," Levin said. "It's a bummer but stay home."

Levin said even if you are feeling better, people can remain contagious for several days after getting sick.

"(A) disease like the flu is contagious for up to a week," Levin said. "RSV is also contagious for anywhere between three days and eight days. And COVID, on average, people are usually infectious at least eight days, and sometimes longer."

Levin added some precautions can be taken to protect guests, including using an air filtration device, cracking a window to help with air flow, and masking, although that’s difficult to do when food is involved.

In terms of COVID-19, Levin said spikes took place right after the holidays over the last few years, after people gathered for the holidays. She expects something similar to take place again this winter. And, while it may be too late for Thanksgiving, she said COVID-19 and flu vaccines can help protect against illness ahead of the December holidays.

Full disclosure: Cooley Dickinson Hospital is an underwriter of New England Public Media, however that does not influence our news coverage.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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