(SPOT.ph) College student Josue Reyes is cutting back on Christmas gatherings this year after contracting COVID-19 during the 2020 and 2021 holiday seasons. Like millions of Filipinos who are easing into their routines, he knows that it takes just one misstep to catch the virus and risk infecting his family or derail travel plans.
"Probably won’t stay as long as before but I’ll still go because there are people there that I care about.... I think that I'll be more careful and healthier this year to prevent another infection," he told SPOT.ph.
New coronavirus mutations like the Omicron BQ.1, waning vaccine immunity and the lifting of face mask mandates have raised concerns about the spread of the virus. Department of Health OIC Rosario Vergeire advised the public to keep public health standards in mind.
"Sana po lagi nating tatandaan na ang virus, kasama pa rin natin. Marami pa rin pong nagkakasakit, marami pa rin pong vulnerable sa atin lalo na ang ating mga nakakatanda," Vergeire in a recent press briefing.
How to stay COVID-free for the third straight Christmas
Spikes in infections followed the last two Christmas seasons. There were no vaccines in 2020, and the omicron variant drove a rapid increase in infections in 2021. This year, we have had enough practice to keep ourselves protected.
Wearing of face masks both indoors and outdoors is now voluntary after President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos' executive order which calls the decision a "positive step" towards the return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
Masking up especially for the senior citizens and those who with weak immune systems is still advisable to prevent catching COVID-19, said infectious diseases expert Edsel Salvaña, a member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group, during November 27's Laging Handa televised briefing.
Don't forget your shots
Getting vaccinated can protect against severe COVID taht could lead to hospitalization or death. For those who completed their primary series, it's best to get booster shots before the Christmas celebrations kick in.
In case you missed it, the DOH will hold a three-day COVID-19 vaccinaion drive called Bakunahang Bayan across the country from December 5 to 7. Second boosters are also available for healthcare frontliners, senior citizens, and persons with comorbidities.
You may also opt to get your annual flu vaccines to boost protection during flu season. Don't worry about waiting time between shots -- it's safe to get both COVID and flu shots at the same day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you're feeling the symptoms, self-isolate
When you start feeling the symptoms, don't dismiss it as nothing but your typical coughs and colds. While it's flu season, it's best to be proactive and self-isolate to spare our family, co-workers, and friends from possible infection. Self-isolating is also advisable after exposure to COVID-19.
Take a test
If you're feeling the symptoms or have been exposed to a COVID-infected person, it's best to take a test. Self-administered antigen tests are available and can be used by non-healthcare professionals at home or outside hospitals and laboratories, the Philippine's Health Technology Assessment Council said.
Those who test positive using a self-administered test are recommended to isolate, while those who tested negative but are highly suspected to be infected should isolate until they can confirm their COVID staus through a repeat self-administered test after 24 to 48 hours, the HTAC said in a guide released this August 2022.
Take note that while self-administered tests are popular because it's cheap, readily accessible, and easy to use, they are not as reliable as the RT-PCR tests done in a clinical setting by professionals.
You can check if your COVID-19 test kit is FDA-approved here.
If you can, avoid crowded areas
COVID-19 isn't the only illness you can catch if you are in crowded, ill-ventilated areas, said Salvaña. For parties and get-togethers, it is best to do it outdoors or in areas with sufficient airflow.
E-numan is still a thing, especially if you're avoiding crowds, Christmas rush, and expensive Grab rides.
Observe minimum health protocols
While Christmas is supposed to be a time for joyous celebrations, it should go without saying that frequent and proper washing of hands with soap and water, use of alcohol to disinfect, and physical distancing should still be practiced. After all, COVID-19 is still here.
"Lagi po tayong mananatiling ingat at ligtas, hindi lang para sa atin ngunit para sa isa't isa rin po para magkaroon po tayo ng good Christmas," said Salvaña.