As trick-or-treating nears, followed by Election Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, there will be a lot of opportunities for South Texans to get together and unwittingly spread COVID-19.

Predictive models of expected disease activity agree: How we will fare depends on public behavior.

UT Health San Antonio urges everyone to continue mask wearing and handwashing during this critical time. Use hand sanitizer often, observe social distance of at least 6 feet and avoid large gatherings, especially indoors.

“We also urge everyone to get their flu shots,” said Jason Bowling, MD, FIDSA (Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America). He is associate professor of medicine (infectious diseases) in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and serves as director of epidemiology at University Hospital.

All communities of South Texas need to be vigilant.  View our We Can Stop the Spread expert video.

“We have lower numbers of cases than other areas of the country, but our test positivity rate this past week has jumped from 5.8% to 6.9%,” Dr. Bowling said Tuesday during an appearance on Texas Public Radio. “We are seeing increased numbers of hospitalized patients, and these are the numbers that begin to track upward before we start to see even higher numbers of cases.”

On Halloween, candy providers and trick-or-treaters are urged to mask and socially distance. That will be challenging with little children, but their safety demands it.

November brings its own challenges.

“At Thanksgiving, a lot of people will return from their universities in different areas of the country,” Dr. Bowling said. “It will be really important, if you have people who are at high risk for complications, that they are protected.

“We need to get the word out to younger people that they shouldn’t be visiting older people and anyone who has underlying medical problems,” he said. “Younger adults should be using video messaging and other ways of communicating with their loved ones, taking this year a little bit differently because of the high risk of transmission.”

Masking, distancing, hand hygiene and limiting numbers of people at gatherings have proven to be effective interventions that protect public health.

“We need to continue to accept that things are different now,” Dr. Bowling said. “We need to do these things, certainly until well into next year and possibly for a couple of years until a large percentage of the world population has been vaccinated.”

The fact progress has been made toward potential vaccines should buoy everyone and give them the resolve they need this fall to continue safe behaviors.

“It doesn’t make sense now to let down our guard when we are closer to vaccines that will protect us all,” Dr. Bowling said.

Vaccines will be rigorously studied to ensure they are safe and effective. Once approved, the distribution process will be quite time-consuming.

“It’s going to take a while to mobilize one produced vaccine and get it to all the areas that need it, which with a global pandemic is a huge challenge,” Dr. Bowling said. “A good portion of 2021 will be spent distributing and administering the vaccine to people. Until then, all of us must stay on guard and do the right things.”