Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

How to Stay COVID-Free For Holidays

6 things you can do to protect yourself and others.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Dec 20th, 2021 12:03 pm
Students at St. Margaret Mary School received doses of the vaccine at a clinic held on Nov. 9. Photo by Matt Martinez/NNS.

Students at St. Margaret Mary School received doses of the vaccine at a clinic held on Nov. 9. Photo by Matt Martinez/NNS.

With COVID-19 cases rising in Milwaukee and the holidays coming, we want you to be safe.

NNS caught up with Kristin Johnson, a physician’s assistant at Progressive Community Health Centers, and Katie Lepak, project officer with the Milwaukee County Public Health Collaborative, a COVID-19 response effort by public and private partners of Milwaukee County, about how you and your loved ones can have a healthy holiday season.

Get tested

The only way to know if you have COVID-19 is to get tested. A number of local clinics, community health centers and testing sites are available to the public.

HealthyMKE.com is updated frequently with new locations on where you can get tested or vaccinated. The website is a tool to help people find no-cost places to get tested as some providers have started charging for services.

The Milwaukee Health Department offers COVID-19 testing at the Northwest Health Center, 7630 W. Mill Rd.; Southside Health Center, 1639 S. 23rd St.; and the Menomonee Valley site at 2401 W. St. Paul Ave.

Timing is key. Someone getting tested has to consider when they will need their results and when testing sites will be open. With holiday hours, it’s important to pay attention to operations, Johnson said. It’s also important to note that there are no set guarantees when it comes to result times, Lepak said.

Lepak recommended getting tested within about 72 hours of your plans. Getting tested earlier and self-isolating for a few days can also be a good strategy to limit exposure or get your results sooner.

Lepak said it’s important to do research before you get tested, as there are now more tests available than there were before. For instance, there are:

  • Molecular tests: Also known as PCR tests, these tests determine active COVID-19 infection and can be done through saliva samples or nasal swabs. Result times vary but usually take about 48 hours.
  • Antigen tests: Also known as a rapid diagnostic test, these provide active COVID-19 infection results in less than an hour
  • Antibody tests: These tests determine whether someone has COVID-19 or has developed immunity because of the COVID-19 vaccine and are conducted through a blood test.
  • At-home sample kits: People take nasal swabs or saliva and send their samples to a lab to be tested. You can get results back within a few days.
  • At-home tests: These tests, often a nasal swab or saliva sample, can be performed at home, and you can get results in less than an hour

Those  flying should also pay attention to testing guidelines from their airlines and other carriers as they may require a specific test.

Those using at-home tests may have questions about their results or if they performed the test correctly, Lepak said. She recommended finding trusted testing sites in the community, using HealthyMKE and asking questions or getting another test for those on the fence.

Milwaukee’s COVID-19 hotline is 414-286-6800.

Get vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccines are available for free throughout the city. Vaccination clinics and drives can be found at HealthyMKE.com.

Vaccines are now available for everyone over age 5. The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine available to those under age 18.

The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are available in two doses, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available in one dose. The doses for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are separated by three weeks and four weeks, respectively.

It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective in the body.

Those who get vaccinated now will at least have partial protection from the coronavirus by the holidays, Johnson said. She also recommended getting a booster shot for those who are eligible – namely those who are six months removed from their last dose of the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine was recently authorized for boosters in 16- and 17-year-olds.

Consider smaller gatherings

Johnson said those gathering with family should consider hosting events with smaller numbers of people where social distancing is possible.

Those at family gatherings should also consider wearing a mask and using extra precautions if anyone present is immunocompromised or ineligible for the vaccine.

Wear a mask, especially when indoors and traveling

Johnson said people, regardless of vaccination status, should mask up when they are indoors, especially in large groups with people they may not know.

Johnson suggested getting an N95 mask for people who might be traveling on planes, trains or buses to give yourself better protection as those are now more widely available.

Wash your hands

Washing your hands frequently will reduce your likelihood of getting COVID-19 and other illnesses.

If you test positive, stay home

If you receive a positive COVID-19 test, it’s important to stay home and isolate for at least 10 days.

Be sure to stay in contact with your medical provider if you have symptoms and keep an eye out. If you have emergency warning signs, such as trouble breathing, seek emergency medical care.

How to stay COVID-free this holiday season was originally published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

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