Douglas County Unified Command leaders and public health officers strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccination, testing and wearing masks in crowded places as the holidays near and cases and hospitalizations increase in Douglas County. While the local public health order that requires masks for children will expire Dec. 22, health officers say it is not time for residents to let their guard down.
“Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic is not over and COVID is something we will have to live with moving forward,” Dr. Thomas Marcellino, local health officer, said. “The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, including a booster vaccine. Breakthrough infections do occur, but the vaccine will lower the risk of severe disease and death.”
Marcellino and Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, local health officer and infectious disease physician at LMH Health, recommend following these public health guidelines:
- Get vaccinated. Anyone ages 5 and older is eligible for vaccination and vaccinations are widely available at pharmacies and health clinics.
- Get a booster dose. All fully vaccinated individuals, ages 16 and older, are eligible for COVID boosters if six months past completion of Moderna or Pfizer vaccination series or two months past Johnson & Johnson vaccination.
- Get tested. COVID self-tests can protect you and others by reducing the chances of spreading the virus that causes coronavirus. You can use self-tests whether you have symptoms or not. The CDC recommends testing before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household. If you have COVID symptoms, contact a health care provider. Symptoms include: fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.
- Wear a face covering when indoors or in crowded spaces. The CDC recommends everyone 2 years and older who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in indoor public places. If you are fully vaccinated, to maximize protection and prevent possibly spreading COVID to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission. According to the CDC, Douglas County is experiencing high transmission.
“People should be masked if they’re in indoor public spaces or outdoor crowded spaces, especially with COVID cases rising and the upcoming holidays,” Schrimsher said. “I think a good rule is to be mindful of who you’re around and who you will be around in the future. Even if you’re not at high risk, there’s likely someone in one of your circles who is. We need to take care of each other.”
Marcellino said, “It is up to each individual in our community to assess their risk and take smart and safe precautions.”
While the local public health order will expire Dec. 22, school districts, universities, businesses and other entities are able to set their own policies in regards to COVID-19 protection measures. Douglas County’s Unified Command, which is facilitated by Douglas County Emergency Management, continues to meet on a regular basis to help with response and recovery efforts. If needed in the future to protect the health and safety of the Douglas County community, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health could issue a local health order.
“Masks work and vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious disease and death,” Schrimsher said. “These are two keystones of keeping our loved ones and the community at large safer.”
For local COVID information and resources, visit: douglascountyks.org/coronavirus.