Philly health commissioner offers advice on holiday gatherings amid 'tripledemic'

"It is more true than ever that the people dying from COVID are people over 65," Dr. Bettigole said.

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Thursday, December 15, 2022
Philly health commissioner's advice on holidays amid 'tripledemic'
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"Our tradition in our society is often to have lots of big parties leading to Christmas and then getting together with older relatives." Dr. Bettigole says it's time to rethink those plans amid the 'tripledemic.'

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Officials with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health are urging everyone to take precautions when it comes to holiday gatherings amid the 'tripledemic' of respiratory illnesses.

"We are seeing a big wave, particularly of flu virus right now. We've been seeing COVID throughout the fall. COVID is a little bit higher than it's been. We had a big RSV wave and now we are facing a very steeply rising rate of flu," Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said during a press conference Wednesday.

She is mostly concerned about spreading respiratory illnesses to two vulnerable populations: children under 4 and senior citizens.

Bettigole said pediatric hospitals are strained right now with kids coming in sick, having trouble breathing, and having to wait 12 or more hours to be seen.

"When pediatric hospital ERs are this crowded, it's really easy for a child to wait too long, so this is the reason we really want to make sure people are paying attention to this and doing the things they can to tamp down infection," Bettigole said.

For the flu, Bettigole said, the best thing to do is get the vaccine.

"I'll say as a parent, every year on average we have one healthy child (in the city) who is unvaccinated for the flu and dies of flu," Bettigole said. "For parents, you have a lot of things on your to-do list, but it is something you can do to protect your kids and protect all of our kids."

She said with the 'tripledemic' going around the Philly area, her advice is what she called the "basic stuff."

She said if you're sick to stay home and don't go to the holiday party.

Mask in crowded indoor spaces. She said masking remains very useful but it doesn't mean you are in a mask at all times.

And she said to get the flu and COVID vaccines when you're eligible.

In terms of COVID, she's worried about people over 65.

"It is more true than ever that the people dying from COVID are people over 65," Bettigole said.

She said one of the biggest things to focus on is the timing of events this holiday season.

"Our tradition in our society is often to have lots of big parties leading to Christmas and then getting together with older relatives," Bettigole said.

She said with the flu and COVID rising, the best thing would be to either flip those plans - have the parties after you see the older relatives - or do a mini-quarantine in between events.

Bettigole said the quarantine option is possible because the omicron variant of COVID has a quick incubation period of two or three days.

"So if you wait four or five days and you're not sick, especially if you test just to make sure, you're going to be much safer going to see people who are vulnerable," Bettigole said.

But skipping the party altogether might work best for others.

"It seems like a little thing not to go to a big party right before you see a senior, but thinking about that timing in advance so you don't find yourself (saying,) 'Oh, I'm going to see grandma on Sunday and I went to that big party Friday night.' That is the perfect timing for you to be contagious with COVID and not know it yet."