ANDROSCOGGIN VALLEY — The holiday season is all about spending time with family and loved ones. To make that time safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local health-care providers say the single best step residents can take is to get vaccinated.

“Give the gift of life this holiday season — get vaccinated,” said Coos County Family Health Services CEO Ken Gordon. “Whether it be your first, second or third dose, it is the best way to protect everyone — especially children, elders and those with weakened immune systems.”

Vaccines are now available for everyone over the age of 5. Everyone over the age of 18 is eligible for a booster shot. Getting a vaccine is free with no out-of-pocket costs for the recipient, making it a gift everyone can afford to give.

This is the second Christmas season with the nation in the grip of COVID-19. It has been a long haul for many, with restrictions on travel and visits making it harder for families to get together to celebrate the holiday season.

“This year, perhaps more than ever, it’s important to celebrate the holidays with family and friends. Celebrate safely by using common sense, getting vaccinated or boosted, and being careful to protect the health of children, elders and those with weakened immune systems,” Gordon said.

Furthermore, if you are sick or have cold symptoms, don’t attend or host a party or event. Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. Consider wearing a mask indoors if there are children or unvaccinated adults in the group.

There are numerous sites in the valley to get a vaccine.

Coos County Family Health Services offers vaccines at its clinics in Gorham and Berlin as do the pharmacies at Walmart and Walgreen.

Starting Monday, Nov. 29, a new state-sponsored vaccine clinic will open at the White Mountain Chalet on the East Milan Road in Berlin. The clinic will operate Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays.

At the COVID-19 Community Group meeting last Thursday, members noted that the number of positive cases in the valley has stabilized in the region over the past three weeks. During October, the surge reached a high of 140 active COVID-19 cases and at least eight deaths in the Androscoggin Valley. The most recent figures on the state website listed approximately 32 active cases in the valley and 147 active cases in Coos County for Friday, Nov. 19.

But numbers have surged in the southern part of the state, and Gordon noted there are now more active COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire than at any time over the past 21 months.

From the seven-day period, Nov. 12-18, there was an average of 880 new cases a day in the state, an 18 percent increase over the previous seven days. The community group said it worries that as the southern part of the state experiences a surge in cases, the North Country will not be far behind.

While there were intensive care and medical-surgical beds available at Androscoggin Valley Hospital last Thursday, the community group said other hospitals, like Littleton Regional Hospital, were short on beds.

The federal Centers for Disease Control lists Coos County as having 59 percent of its residents fully vaccinated. Gordon said currently a majority of people coming to his agency’s clinics are there for booster shots. He said there have only been a handful there for their first doses. He said CCFHS would like to reach those still hesitant to get vaccinated.

“While we all want this pandemic to be over, we can’t wish it away. Vaccination is the key to ending the pandemic,” he said.

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