We’ve enjoyed a long autumn in Colorado this year. But by the calendar, it’s winter! It can be a beautiful season in the Rockies but with cold, snowy, windy weather come challenges to health and safety. In addition to the usual winter colds and flu, we are still deciphering and learning to manage COVID-19 and its variants, which tend to favor cold weather. Following are some reminders and resources to help you and your loved ones reduce the risk of cold-related illness, injury, and hazards and enjoy a comfortable, healthy winter.
Keep hands and surfaces clean.
One of the best ways to ward off colds and flu is to keep hands clean, washing them often with soap and warm water. CDC guidelines for reducing the spread of germs include frequent hand washing and sanitizing. To help facilitate clean hands, place dispensers of hand sanitizer in several places around the home – the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, near the telephone, exterior doors, and wherever your family members like to spend their time during the day. Carry it in your pocket or purse as well. Hand sanitizers should contain a minimum of 60% alcohol to be effective and are a quick way to kill germs without having to make a trip to the sink – although hand washing is more effective in some cases. Check out the CDC’s guidelines for keeping hands clean. Keep food preparation surfaces clean with food-safe sanitizers and clean your cell phone, keyboard, and other tech surfaces often.
Know and practice preventive basics.
Practice and remind your loved ones of basic health tips, which include:
- Don’t touch nose, mouth, and eyes with other than clean hands.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not into your hand.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Talk to your health practitioner about supplements or other recommendations to boost the immune system.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration – the humidity in winter is often less than in summer plus some forms of heat deplete moisture from the home.
- Get plenty of sleep to keep the body’s defenses strong.
What you should know about masks, flu and covid.
Flu cases were down last winter, which was largely attributed to the widespread practice of wearing masks. As we are told each winter, the flu vaccine does not prevent all strains, but masks seemed to make a substantial difference.
To reduce your chances of contracting COVID, the CDC recommends wearing a mask while in indoor public places, regardless of your vaccination status. There are several variants of the COVID-19 virus and epidemiologists warn that there may be more as the virus continues to mutate. Ongoing research seeks to determine the transmissibility and severity of each variant. We have seen that vaccinated people can be infected and it appears that someone who has had COVID may contract a strain of it again. With so many unknowns, help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community by wearing a mask. As our government and healthcare leaders have conveyed – it’s not a time for panic – rather, by applying simple, preventive measures you are more likely to stay safe and well. Check out the CDC’s guidelines on face coverings, including how to choose and wear a mask so that it’s most effective.
The CDC has also issued guidelines for obtaining boosters for those who have been fully vaccinated. Being informed is also a big part of staying healthy. This CDC resource for all things COVID, includes a description of symptoms, vaccination details, variant information, case data and more. Should you feel that you may have symptoms, get tested immediately. As with many diseases, getting treated early is important for the best outcome. Check your local health department for testing locations. At-home test kits are also available from most pharmacies or through the state as part of Colorado’s strategy to combat and manage COVID.
A winter-friendly home is a safe home.
Consider installing a programmable thermostat to ensure that a safe and comfortable temperature is maintained in the home, while conserving energy and costs. Install a carbon monoxide sensor – they are inexpensive and will sound an alarm if carbon monoxide levels are too high. Carbon monoxide is a risk with any source of combustion – gas stoves, gas water heaters, gas furnaces, wood burning or gas fireplaces – especially when there is inefficient combustion or poor ventilation. Have chimneys checked and cleaned regularly. Be sure that wood-burning fireplaces have sturdy screens to avoid sparks popping out or flammable materials coming into contact with flames. Install locks on doors that fully unlock when opened to avoid getting locked outside in potentially dangerous weather. Some doorknob locks remain in the locked position even when the door is opened as is the case with some storm door latches. Consider using a humidifier to add a little moisture to winter’s dry air – your respiratory system will thank you.
An ounce of prevention….
Colder weather brings about more health-related dangers. Here are some simple checklist items to help you mitigate the risk:
- Dress in layers when you go out to help retain body heat.
- Make a place for coats, gloves, hats, and scarves near exterior doors to reduce the temptation to go out, even for a brief time, without them – it takes only minutes for hypothermia to set in when skin is exposed to low temperatures.
- Take steps to eliminate the risk of falls:
- Reduce the necessity for you or your loved ones to go outside when ice is present.
- Remove obstacles that may not be apparent if covered with snow.
- Ensure that handrails along both stairs and walkways are in good repair.
- Provide containers of sand or ice melt next to entry doors, stairs, and walkways along with an easy-to-use scoop to cut down on slippery surfaces.
- Keep walkways clear of snow and ice. If you can’t do it yourself, contract with someone to remove snow and ice periodically and after each storm.
- If you shovel your own snow, take breaks periodically and stay hydrated. Shovel safely to avoid injury – lift with your legs and don’t fill those shovels too full to avoid shoulder injury.
Protect your pets!
Domesticated animals are not equipped to handle the weather extremes that wildlife can survive, so be sure not to leave pets outdoors and always have fresh water available. When taking dogs out for potty breaks or walks, you can fit them with booties to prevent damage to pads and to avoid the accumulation of salts and snow-melt products on paws. Otherwise, clean their paws with lukewarm water after walking anywhere that salts or other snow-melt products may have been applied. If your pet licks their paws, some products can cause gastrointestinal upset and may be toxic. If you use ice melt products yourself, choose one such as Paw-Safe, which is non-toxic and safe for paws. Do not let your pets come in contact with anti-freeze. It has a sweet taste that is tempting to pets. Even a tiny amount can be lethal.
Remember those who are elderly or disabled.
Check often on those who are elderly, disabled, ill, have mobility issues, or live alone. Consider helping to set up a calling tree among and for elderly and home-bound friends. Schedule times each day or two for friends to call each other. Provide each participant with phone numbers for another family member of the friend they are to call who could be contacted if their “phone buddy” doesn’t answer at the time of their scheduled call. Help by picking up mail, shoveling snow, and running errands, or arrange volunteers who can help with these chores. This is especially important during the COVID pandemic since elderly and immune-compromised individuals may be at higher risk for contracting the virus and suffering more severe illness from some strains.
Thinking ahead and taking steps to maintain health and safety means more enjoyment of the beauty and awe that our Colorado winters bestow and can help prevent the incidence of issues that may not melt away with the snow. Here’s to a happy and healthy Winter!