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Burlington County advises COVID precautions for the holidays

Residents should get tested before and after holiday gatherings to help guard against spreading the virus.

Special to The Sun: The Burlington County Vaccine mega-site in Mount Laurel provides vaccines and boosters shots for adults and children ages 5 to 12.

The Burlington County Health Department is reminding residents about some simple precautions that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the current holiday season.

Typically, gathering during holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. However, with the virus still active, it may be prudent for some holiday plans to be modified to keep friends, families and communities healthy and safe.

“We’ve made lots of progress over the past year in our collective battle against COVID-19 and the vaccines have made it possible for most of us to enjoy a low-risk holiday together,” said Dr. Herb Conaway, director of the Burlington County Health Department. “However, that doesn’t mean we can let our guard down entirely during the holidays. We’ve started to see the numbers of new cases rise again, so we’re reminding residents to be mindful and take precautions while traveling, shopping or attending gatherings.”

Get vaccinated or get your booster

The most important precaution to take is to get vaccinated if you have not already done so and to get a booster if more than six months has lapsed since your second Moderna or Pfizer vaccination or two months has passed since your first Johnson & Johnson shot.

Vaccines and vaccine boosters are available at the new Burlington County Vaccine Mega-Site, located at the former AC Moore store, 1190 Nixon Drive in the Eastgate Shopping Center in Mount Laurel.

The Mega-Site is also administering pediatric doses of Pfizer vaccine to young children between five and 12-years-old.

The Mega-Site is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Limited number of walk-ins are accepted, so residents are encouraged to make appointments through the Virtua vaccine appointment portal at https://www.virtua.org/vaccine.

The Burlington County Health Department will also hold a special vaccine clinic on Dec. 15 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Burlington County Emergency Services Training Center, 53 Academy Drive in Westampton.

Vaccinations will be available for anyone five or older and boosters will be available for people 16 or older. People seeking a booster should bring proof of their previous vaccination record. 

The clinic is being held as part of Booster Palooza, a statewide event marking the one-year-anniversary of the first COVID vaccinations in New Jersey. More than 14.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered across New Jersey, including more than 590,000 in Burlington County.

“We know vaccines will lose a lot of their effectiveness, so it’s really important for those who are eligible to get that booster as soon as possible,” Conaway said. If you received two doses of a vaccine, boost your protection after six months. If you received one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, boost your protection after two months with any of the approved vaccines. The best way to keep yourself and your family, friends and loved ones safe during the holidays is to get a booster.”

Wear a mask indoors and in crowds

For those unvaccinated, it’s imperative for you to wear a mask in public spaces.  Even people who are fully vaccinated and boosted are advised to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces or other high-risk locations. This is particularly important for seniors and others who are most vulnerable to COVID and complications.

Those hosting holiday gatherings should be mindful of the increased risks posed to seniors and other vulnerable persons if indoors among unvaccinated guests. And anyone who is feeling sick should remain home.

Washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer is also recommended.

Get tested

Getting tested before and after holiday gatherings is another precaution residents can take to help guard against spreading the virus. There are a number of locations where testing is offered, including local pharmacies, health care providers and the Burlington County testing site, now in a new location in the Willingboro Town Center complex, 4390 Route 130 North.

The county site’s testing hours are Mondays, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 6 p.m.

Testing is available to all Burlington County residents ages five and older and to those who work or go to school in the county. Those who are insured must present their insurance cards but all can receive testing without out-of-pocket costs. Walk-ups are welcome but appointments are encouraged and can be made at www.burlingtoncountytesting.org.

Test results are typically returned within 24 to 48 hours.

“Testing remains one of our most important tools to fight COVID-19 because it helps us identify and isolate those who have become exposed or infected to prevent further spread,” Conaway said. “With the winter surge we’re now seeing and the unknowns surrounding the new omicron variant, it’s more important than ever for those with symptoms, or who have been in close contact with someone infected to get tested right away. We would also encourage residents to get tested before and after family gatherings or if they’ve spent time in a high-risk setting, such as a large event or crowded location.”

Get a flu shot

Coronavirus isn’t the only infectious disease circulating during the holiday season. Influenza cases are also on the rise, so residents are encouraged to get a flu shot along with a COVID-19 vaccination or booster.

A schedule of the Health Department’s remaining flu shot clinics is available at https://www.co.burlington.nj.us/DocumentCenter/View/12018/Flu-Shot-Brochure-2021-2022?bidId=

“While the flu vaccine will not protect residents from COVID-19, it’s still incredibly important for people to get it because influenza is circulating and can pose a danger,” Conaway said. “We don’t want people coming down with both flu and COVID-19, and we don’t want to have a surge of influenza cases tax our health systems at the same time we’re seeing a rise in COVID-19 infections.”

Burlington County Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell, who is the Board’s liaison to the Health Department, said simple precautions during the holidays can help stem the winter surge.

“From testing, contact-tracing, administering vaccines and assisting our schools and long-term care facilities, our Health Department has worked tirelessly to ensure our residents have access to all available protections,” O’Connell said. “We’re asking everyone to remain vigilant and follow some simple precautions to help ensure everyone can enjoy a safe and healthy holiday.”

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