Moving safely through Labor Day weekend
The football field won’t be the only place critical decision making takes place this Labor Day weekend.
From tailgates and cookouts to grocery stores and restaurants, Hokies everywhere will face situations in which choices regarding their health and that of their community will be made. Two former and one current member of Virginia Tech’s COVID Crushers shared insights on how they assess risk to ensure they are helping fight the spread of COVID-19 when facing such situations.
“The biggest thing is to just really be considerate of all the people in the community,” said Ashley Murray, a senior studying biochemistry. “Whatever little things we can do to help prevent the spread, especially to younger or vulnerable people, we should really do that.”
Murray, who also works in public health for the Town of Blacksburg, said it’s especially important for Hokies to consider the difference in vaccination rates between those on campus at Virginia Tech and the surrounding communities. While 95 percent of students and 88 percent of employees have reported being vaccinated against the virus, there is a less than 50-percent rate throughout the entire New River Health District.
“The reality is we still have a lot of people in our community that are unvaccinated, and the Delta variant is hitting them the hardest,” said Fernanda Gutierrez, a 2021 graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s public health program and a founding member of the COVID Crushers.
Gutierrez, who now works for the New River Health District, said that despite her being vaccinated, the rise of Delta variant has changed some of her personal habits when going into public spaces.
“Somethings that I may have been comfortable doing a couple months ago, because of the Delta surge hitting the New River Valley, are not things I’m comfortable with now,” she said.
Teagan Neveldine, a colleague at the New River Health District and also a former COVID Crusher, said she found it helpful to think of the vaccine as a layer of protection against the worst possible outcomes from contracting the virus, but not the only layer of protection.
“It keeps you much better protected, especially against hospitalizations and death, but that doesn’t mean you should stop take any other precautions,” said Neveldine, who also graduated the public health program this past spring.
Some of those precautions include wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distance between individuals. Masks will be required, regardless of vaccination status, in all indoor common areas in Lane Stadium during Friday night’s football game.
Deciding on the proper level of precaution involves evaluating one’s individual health factors, as well as those closest to them, and assessing the risk involved with individual events and/or activities. The trio of Hokies share some of their thoughts when going through this process for themselves.
“One of the first things I consider is if an event or gather is outdoors or indoors,” Murray said. “That’s one of the bigger indicators of what I’m going to do. And right now, typically any public place that’s indoors, I’ll put on a mask.”
The group added that masking should be considered even during outdoor public gatherings where maintaining physical distancing would not always be possible. And they suggested keeping a mask on hand just in case the need arises to move indoors.
“What I look for is a well-ventilated place, number one,” said Neveldine. “It’s an airborne virus, so outdoors is always your best option, but ventilation can help you be safer inside.”
Air purifiers and filtration systems are very helpful, but simply opening a window can provide an added layer of protection.
Avoiding crowds when possible is a good guideline, but it’s also wise to be aware of who is around in smaller groups.
“It’s just one more precaution you can take,” Gutierrez said. “We never really know where people may have traveled or who they may have been around.”
Limiting the time you’ll spend in a specific situation, especially if the other risk factors feel high, can help lower your odds on contracting the virus.
Of the people physically near you, knowing who is and isn’t vaccinated can also help assess the risk level. And while you cannot control the vaccination status of others, the security of your own status should also be a factor when assesses your risk.
At Friday’s game, Gutierrez’s and Neveldine will be among representatives from the health district on hand to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. From 2:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., vaccines will be available at the Hokie Village. Representatives and volunteers, such as Murray, will also be there to hand out masks.
“You can get your first or second dose, and we’ll have all the different vaccines,” Gutierrez said. “Every single person vaccinated is a victory for us."