COLUMBUS (WCMH) – As the weather cools and the seasons change, health experts are looking ahead to what’s next with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When all of the activities are drawn indoors with cold weather, there’s certainly a great opportunity for another spike,” said Dr. Mark Herbert, an infectious disease expert with Mt. Carmel Health System.

He explained Central Ohio’s position is similar to one year ago when comparing case numbers and hospitalizations. Last year, the region was bracing for a surge. This year, it’s winding down from one. The biggest difference is the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Right now, more than ever, we really need to see more and more people getting vaccinated,” Dr. Herbert said, explaining being vaccinated provides an extra layer of protection during holiday gatherings.

Favorite outdoor activities, like trick-or-treating, apple picking or trips to the pumpkin patch are considered some of the lowest risk fall traditions.

“Going door-to-door, trick-or-treating should be quite safe,” Dr. Herbert said. “Generally speaking, any contact you have with people within 3 to 6 feet would be brief.”

Indoors, he explained, there are higher risks for exposure. It’s why Dr. Herbert agrees with the CDC’s mask recommendation for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face-covering in indoor spaces with people outside of your immediate household.

“The masking is not going to go away soon. We’re seeing small decreases in the number of cases, but we’re continuing to see hospitalizations and deaths from COVID. I think we’ll need to see changes across the board before we will be able to decrease the masking requirements,” he said.

Health experts point to promising developments on the horizon that could change the trajectory of the pandemic. Within the next 7-10 days, Dr. Herbert expects the FDA to authorize booster shots for eligible patients who have already received Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. He thinks the agency could authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 shortly thereafter.

“Having young children vaccinated, 5 years and up, is going to make school much safer,” he said, adding higher vaccination rates among everyone will improve safety.

“If people are tired of dealing with the pandemic, they should be certain they’re following all of the public health recommendations, including masking, distancing, but most importantly – vaccination,” he said.