This is a weekly Q and A column written by Dr Lydia S. Segal. M.D. in conjunction with Chaffee County Public Health. This column is focused on questions readers have about COVID-19 news and science. As Segal points out, ‘Everything I write today is valid for today. COVID-19 news and science are rapidly evolving, assume updates will be made”.
QUESTION: Peaches and COVID: Should I or shouldn’t I go and handpick peaches in Mesa county this season?
ANSWER: I often get asked about travel precautions in-state, across the country, and even internationally. Let’s start within the state. I recently came across a newspaper article that Mesa County, where Grand Junction is located, is experiencing an uptick in cases of the Delta variant. This variant, previously known as the India variant, is concerning because it is 50 percent more transmissible and causes more severe cases of COVID-19, translating to more hospitalizations, more ICU stays, and more deaths.
There are now more than 400 cases of this Delta variant reported in Mesa County as of June 29, 2021. If you would like to check on reported cases for yourselves, go to https://covid19.colorado.gov/data and look for “variants by county” towards the bottom of the page. The Delta variant is listed under its original name, B.1.617.2. Similar information is available for other states on their COVID-19 data information websites, called ‘dashboards’. It might not be easy to find, but it is worth the effort if you are traveling to that state.
So back to picking peaches: Both doses of one of the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) are about 90 percent effective against the Delta variant. So if you got both your doses, you are in very good shape and can safely go and pick as many peaches as you like. If you got only one dose of vaccine, then you are only 33 percent protected according to the British Public Health Study, published in May. It might be time to consider getting that second shot and waiting two weeks to reach full vaccination coverage.
I realize that you will be outside picking those peaches, but likely while in Mesa County you might stop inside for a bit to eat or shop. Those activities increase your risk.
QUESTION: If one of your group has medical complications, or is immunocompromised, or simply has not been vaccinated, what should I do?
ANSWER: In any of those cases, I urge you to err on the side of caution and skip the excursion and pick up those wonderful peaches at the Salida Farmers Market in Alpine Park on Saturday.
QUESTION: So what does picking peaches have to do with other travel plans?
ANSWER: I bring up this as an example of travel and safety. If you and the family or friends are heading someplace and have flexibility about where you go, find a place that has lower positivity rates and lower variant rates. And, of course, get fully vaccinated. But what if you have no choice and have to go to a place with a high positivity rate and a worrisome rate of variants? If you are fully vaccinated I would recommend still masking and keeping to the six feet of social distancing rule, as well as eating outdoors and not socializing with anyone who is medically fragile or immunocompromised.
QUESTION: Can you tell me more about travel in general both by land and by air and within the USA and internationally?
ANSWER: I will break down travel by plane, car, hotels, and restaurants.
Travel by plane: Remember that cases from air travel are actually quite low, especially since mandatory masking went into effect last year, even though most airlines are now filling as many seats as possible. Airplanes have constant air circulating and filtering, making inside the plane a relatively safe place to be despite its close confines. It is the actual airport that can be the most worrisome. I would endeavor to keep my distance from others, not knowing if they are vaccinated or not. Remember, if you are vaccinated, you are very protected, but it cannot hurt to still be as careful as possible, especially in the boarding area where people tend to congregate. The biggest concern inside the plane might be the lavatory. The virus can be passed in feces so it would be best to wait a minute or two before entering after the last person has flushed. And those lavatories are very small and poorly ventilated, the very best type of place for the virus to spread. With these precautions, however, it should be safe to travel by plane.
Hotels: If you can stay in a place with windows that open, even a few inches for fresh air, that is the way to go. For extra protection, put a mask back on while checking in and wear one in the elevators, stairwells and hallways.
Restaurants: Eating outside if you can is a good idea..
International travel: Travel overseas means more complex research based on what the U.S. State Department and the country you are traveling to require. It is suggested you check the specific country you are going to both for their positivity and variant rates. Find out if the country requires you to be vaccinated and if they require a negative COVID test within say 72 or 48 hours prior to departure. Proof of vaccination may be the original card or a photo image of the card. Currently the USA requires you to have the same for re-entering from that country. Do you know how to get the required reentry test from the country you are going to be visiting?
For more information about COVID and the vaccines, eligibility and appointments, see the links below. Pharmacies are getting small shipments of vaccines. Information will be posted online here and on the county public health and hospital web pages.
Pharmacies with vaccine clinics:
Salida: Safeway, Walmart and Salida Pharmacy
Buena Vista: Mt. Shavano (LaGree’s), City Market, BV Drug and Valley-Wide Health
If you have questions you would like Dr. Segal to address in a future COVID Q and A column, please write to email@example.com
By Lydia S. Segal, M.D., MPH