COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Health leaders are encouraging Americans to return to the basics of COVID-19 prevention this Labor Day weekend.

“You have to ask yourself the following question: how much of a risk do you want to take?” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo.

The infectious disease specialist with OhioHealth explained your family can safely enjoy many traditional holiday activities as long as you’re exercising caution.

“Any time people travel and get together and don’t follow the ‘swiss cheese layer’ mitigation recommendations, that’s always a potential for a spike in cases,” he said.

Mitigation strategies include wearing a mask in public, indoor spaces and outdoors when social distancing is
difficult. The best way to protect yourself and others, Dr. Gastaldo explained, is to be vaccinated.

This week, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said unvaccinated Americans should not travel for the holiday. The advice comes as COVID-19 surges across the U.S. In Ohio, all 88 counties are seeing high transmission rates. The state’s current case numbers and hospitalizations are ten times higher than they were during the last holiday weekend, July 4th.

“It is a much, much riskier scenario to travel if you are not fully vaccinated,” Dr. Gastaldo said. “We really
want to send a strong message out to the community that this pandemic is still going on. We have the Delta surge happening in Ohio as we speak.”

Data suggests the Delta variant is at least 50 percent more contagious than previous strains and is affecting
younger, healthier individuals. The variant has also infected those who are vaccinated, though commonly resulting in less serious cases.

Friday morning, Central Ohioans were enjoying the weather at Griggs Reservoir on the West side of Columbus. Friends Brian Plank and Jim Scholes were taking advantage of the sunshine and mild temperatures with a kayak trip.

“Out here it doesn’t look too crowded, so no mask today,” said Scholes.

He works at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and said he’s conscious of the rising case numbers.

“I keep to my girlfriend, my mom and dad and a small group of friends and that’s pretty much about it,” he said. “I haven’t been to any parties or anything, had to pass on a bunch of Buckeye parties, tailgates. It’s kind of a bummer, but it’s worth it to try to keep a little bit safer.”

“We’re both vaccinated so that helps a little bit,” Plank added. “But with the amount of COVID going on right
now, [we] just have to be a little careful.”

Doctors worry about the potential spike in cases after holiday gatherings, but some health experts believe the peak of the current COVID-19 surge won’t appear until October.

“It’s happened with our previous holidays before and it could happen with this holiday weekend too,” Dr. Gastaldo said. “But things can be done in a safe way and they can be done with planning ahead of time.”0