Health officials say take caution this holiday weekend

NOW: Health officials say take caution this holiday weekend

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - It’s the 4th of July weekend and what does that mean? Crowded beaches and big group gatherings!

President Joe Biden calling it the “Summer of Freedom” as he plans to visit Traverse City, Michigan this Saturday.

Although almost half the country is fully vaccinated, health experts warn the Delta variant could cause another rise in cases.

“In terms of our current case rates, we are in the best shape we’ve been in so it certainly makes sense to have freedom from masks and things but with that people are traveling more, that increases the risk for importing the variant from another region," St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer, Dr. Mark Fox said.

The Delta variant, which is more contagious, has still not been identified in St. Joseph County, but that data is 2 to 6 weeks old.

“If I were a betting man, I would say we have the delta variant already here," Dr. Fox said.

With St. Joseph County just shy of 50% fully vaccinated, it’s other counties like Elkhart which is still struggling to get shots in arms – that could cause problems.

“Obviously the virus doesn’t stop at the county line so the proportion of people unvaccinated in neighboring counties poses a risk for the region," he said.

In Berrien County, that number also sits just under 50%.

“While it’s possible for us to see a rise in COVID-19 cases, especially if the delta variant which is more transmissible enters into some of our communities that are under-vaccinated at this time, we aren’t hopefully anticipating much of a surge to happen this summer," Gillian Conrad, the Communications Manager for the Berrien County Health Department said.

The rise in cases due to the Delta variant – even causing some counties in states like California, to revert back to mask orders for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents indoors.

But will any Michiana counties follow suit? Not so fast.

“We know that masking is a good mitigation strategy but politically it’s a tough sell, it’s like getting the genie back in the bottle, once you’ve taken it away the circumstances have to be pretty dire to say okay everyone has to be back in a mask," Dr. Fox said.

“We don’t believe that any lockdowns or mask mandates will be necessary especially as those vaccination rates continue to increase," Conrad said.

Dr. Fox said to make sure you get vaccinated, if you’re not vaccinated, wear a mask and always be cautious in closed public spaces with poor ventilation.

Luckily many folks are going to be outside and in the sun this weekend and that’s a great situation to be in.

But what else can you do to protect yourself and others this holiday weekend?

“I hope that a lot of 4th of July gatherings are outside, that’s clearly the safest way to gather in any significant numbers but even with that – people need to think about how they interact. Common food dishes where everyone is digging in and helping themselves, that increases exposure all cross the line," he said.

You can single-serve or have one person dish out food just to be cautious this weekend and still have fun in the sun!

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