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Health experts: New Year's Eve could be 'perfect storm' for spreading COVID-19

Deputy health director: 'Now is the time to batten down and just ride this out'
Virus Outbreak New Zealand New Year
Posted at 12:35 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 18:20:11-05

RICHMOND, Va -- Local health leaders are warning Central Virginians that a typical New Year's Eve celebration is a “perfect storm” for spreading COVID-19, at a time when cases and hospitalizations are spiking. On the final day of 2020, more than 5,200 new cases were reported statewide and the Commonwealth reached 5,000 virus-related deaths.

“Now is not the time to make things worse. Now is the time to batten down and just ride this out. We’re going to get there, but we have to make choices that don’t make it worse for us as we’re getting there,” Richmond-Henrico Health District Deputy Director Dr. Melissa Viray said. “I know this is the last hurrah of the holiday season, but this is our chance to be diligent, to be vigilant.”

Traditional New Year’s Eve merriment, defined by alcohol, loud music, and close quarters, creates factors rife for virus transmission, according to Viray. The conditions, she said, are even more problematic than Christmas or Thanksgiving gatherings.

“It’s cold out, people are inside, people are drinking, unusually you sing, and it’s loud so you speak louder and get closer together. All of these things together right now, it’s just a perfect storm of things we don’t want to happen,” Viray said. “It’s normal; we’re human. This what we’ve done for years and years, and I understand it. It’s just that we see a continual rise, coming out of December we’re continuing to increase.”

In lieu of standard NYE celebrations, health officials are suggesting smaller gatherings, at-home with people in your most immediate social circle. Statistical modeling proves, according to health experts, larger gatherings, especially of 25 or more people, amplify your chances of encountering a person who has COVID-19 and further spreading the virus.

If you do choose to join in on a public gathering, Viray said practicing standard COVID-19 mitigation strategies — like wearing masks inside and out, socially distancing from others, and good hand hygiene — is critical.

“Don’t be going from party to party; don’t be going from group to group. Stay in your small group, outside, stay distant. Don’t take your mask off to be louder. Don’t be singing and shouting,” she said.

Although health professionals are better equipped to address COVID-19 illness than at the beginning of pandemic, Viray categorized the current level of new cases and hospitalizations in Richmond-Henrico as the worst they’ve seen. Her concern is that already stretched health care facilities will not be able to handle a further crush of COVID patients in early January.

“In particular, the number of hospitalizations, ICU beds, ventilator use for COVID, has been on the increase in December,” she said. “What we don’t want to see is our hospitals have to go into conditions where they are not able to take care of our routine things or our other emergencies.”

Click here for information on COVID-19 response in Richmond-Henrico or call the COVID-19 Hotline at 804-205-3501. Click here to identify resources in your area.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.