Stay merry, stay healthy: Tips to keep germs at bay during holiday gatherings

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By Ashley Adams

December 18, 2023

Dr. Debra Powell, chief of Infectious Diseases at Reading Hospital, gives handy tips that will help you stay healthy over the holidays.

It’s that time of year again. A time for holiday gatherings with friends and family to pass around their germs and colds.

While we are no longer in the midst of a pandemic, the threat of serious illnesses, including COVID, the flu, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are still very much real.

At Reading Hospital in Berks County last week, there were 30 patients with COVID, two on ventilators, according to Dr. Debra Powell, chief of Infectious Diseases Division at Reading Hospital —Tower Health.

Plus, Powell said, the flu season usually starts around now.

“We usually see a big spike in flu cases in January and February after the holiday season,” Powell said.

No one wants to get sick during the holidays. Powell said there are some things you can do to try and stay healthy while still enjoying time with friends and family.

Get vaccinated

“The best advice I can give people is to get vaccinated,” Powell said. “Get the flu shot. Get the COVID vaccine.”

A new, updated COVID booster was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 11 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone ages six months and up get it as it is the best defense against COVID-related hospitalization and death.

Powell said people should get the flu shot as well and can get both the COVID booster and the flu shot at the same time.

In addition, certain people at high risk — including the elderly, those with lung or heart disease, and people with compromised immune systems — can get the RSV vaccine as well.

Wash your hands

Washing your hands frequently, Powell said, is extremely important to keeping germs at bay. You should also keep your hands away from your mouth and face.

Stay home

If you are sick, stay home, Powell said. Or at least wear a mask if you are around people.

“If you have symptoms, wear a mask,” Powell said. “If you are immunocompromised, wear a mask. No one wants to give (or get) COVID for the holidays and end up in the hospital.”


  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.



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