As vaccination efforts continue to ramp up in the Rio Grande Valley, local health experts are urging residents to continue to follow COVID safety precautions.
The message from physicians regarding the importance of continuing to follow Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines outlining protection against COVID-19 comes in response to the lifting of the state’s mask mandate.
“The continued use of masks along with other recommended preventative measures will help us avoid another surge of hospitalizations and preventable deaths due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. “We are so close to the end of this pandemic and have incredibly effective vaccines available. It would be a shame to see another surge or a prolonged decline in cases because we dropped our guard too soon.”
Dr. Beverly Zavaleta, hospitalist and physician adviser at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, said that while COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined throughout the region, it is important to note that the virus is still active in the community and that residents should protect themselves accordingly by doing things such as continuing to wear a face covering in public, frequently washing hands, and avoiding indoor gatherings unless they have been fully vaccinated.
“While the mask mandate may not be in place, our hope is that our community members will continue to focus on the goal, which is to prevent the spread COVID-19 as best we can,” Zavaleta said. “As a community we have made such good progress in lowering the number of COVID-19 cases and we wish to continue on that path.”
Efforts to vaccinate local residents have picked up steam in recent weeks, but the Valley’s overall vaccination rate remains low, which highlights the importance of continuing to practice proven COVID safety measures, Zavaleta said.
“The COVID vaccination rate in Texas is 8.6 percent, not the 80-85 percent that we need it to be for herd immunity. This means that we have to continue wearing masks and physically distancing in public until we have nearly everyone vaccinated,” she said.
As more residents become fully vaccinated with any of the three available vaccines, more individuals can take advantage of the CDC’s recently released guidelines for vaccinated individuals, which include the following activities:
- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart.
- Visit with unvaccinated people from one other household indoors without wearing masks or staying 6 feet apart if everyone in the other household is at low risk for severe disease.
- Refrain from quarantine and testing if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19 after contact with someone who has COVID-19.
While the CDC recommends that fully vaccinated individuals still follow standard COVID safety measures while in public, the loosening of some restrictions while in the home and interacting with other vaccinated individuals is a sign that a return to more “normal life” is on the horizon as the vaccine continues to become more readily available, Romero said.
“We will get to a point where we will have enough vaccinations in the community that things will start to look a whole lot like the normal days before COVID came around,” Romero said. “However, being able to protect those people that are still vulnerable and unvaccinated in our community is the reason why I will choose to continue to wear a mask until we have a much broader segment of the population being vaccinated and protected.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, the CDC has recommended that people:
- Wear a mask in public, which covers both their nose and mouth
- Practice social distancing
- Avoid large gatherings, and
- Wash their hands consistently and for at least 20 seconds
For more information on ongoing COVID safety precautions for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, visit www.cdc.gov.