How to stay safe and healthy during the holidays

The holiday season is one of the year’s busiest times, from shopping for Christmas gifts and attending parties, to cooking holiday meals and seeing extended family for the first time all year.

But during such a hectic time of year, many health and safety risks lurk in the busy traffic around major shopping areas and on the handrails in public places. Therefore, taking just a few simple precautions could save lives this winter.

Perils in Holiday Traffic

Holiday time is one of the heaviest traffic flow seasons of the year, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Winter in the south means wet, cold driving conditions.

Kyle Collins is a communications specialist for the GDOT district two, which encompasses 27 counties including Baldwin County. He said he credits increased road activity in the winter to recently lowered gas prices, consumers shopping special holiday deals and family members traveling to see loved ones.

Collins said the heaviest traffic flow areas in middle Georgia concentrate around major roadways, like U.S. Highway 441, and major shopping areas, such as malls.

And although heavier traffic means more risk in driving, Collins said there are several basic precautions drivers can take to stay safe on the road during the holiday season.

“Put the phone down if you’re around traffic or in your car,” Collins said.

According to the GDOT Office of Traffic and Operations, fatalities due to lane and roadway departures have totaled 815 and 553 respectively so far in 2016, which are up from 2015’s totals of 670 fatalities due to lane departures and 445 fatalities due to roadway departures.

“Analytics credit that to distracted driving behavior,” Collins said of these increasing numbers.

Collins said that the GDOT urges drivers to avoid distractions like adjusting the radio, utilizing navigation systems and engaging with children in the backseat. Most of all, however, Collins said he stresses the importance of wearing seatbelts.

“Statewide, we’ve seen an increase in people not buckling up,” Collins said.

Collins also said that the GDOT has observed a recent increase in pedestrian fatalities.

He said the department encourages pedestrians to use crosswalks in high-traffic areas like downtown Milledgeville and other holiday shopping areas, never to cross the street while using a cell phone and to always be aware of their surroundings.

For the safety of those inside and outside the car, AAA encourages people to never drive when they are fatigued, according to AAA’s winter driving tips.

Laverne Reed, manager of AAA’s middle Georgia branch, also said that drivers should make sure that their cars are in excellent working order before driving during the winter season.

“Make sure your tires are in good running condition,” Reed said. “Make sure they’re inflated correctly.”

Reed said AAA encourages drivers to keep an emergency kit in their cars during the winter that includes a flashlight, jumper cables, flares, a snack, a first aid kit, blankets and water.

Dale Epps, owner of the Baldwin Body Shop in downtown Milledgeville, said that drivers should test their emergency lights, windshield wiper blades and battery to make sure their cars are prepared for winter travel.

Epps also said that before getting on the road, drivers should give their cars a moment to warm up after cranking the engine, since cars behave a little more sluggishly in the winter.

“Make sure to keep some de-icing fluid in your windshield washer fluid,” Epps said. “Make sure your windows are all defrosted before you start backing out,”

Reed said that whenever someone doesn’t feel comfortable driving in winter conditions, that person should stay off the road rather than risk an unsafe journey.

Reed said she reminds people to drive more slowly when it rains.

“Most people, for whatever reason, tend to speed up when it rains,” Reed said.

To have patience is the most important thing for drivers to remember during holiday travel, Collins said.

With construction occurring across the state and congestion restricting traffic flow, Collins said it can be easy to get frustrated.

Collins said he encourages people to know what is ahead before getting on the road and to use a GPS system in case they are forced to take an alternate route.

“I would just urge people to do some research before you travel,” Collins said.

Germs Everywhere

Another area of concern during the winter months is staying healthy. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the winter months are the peak of flu season, and more people contract the common cold during the winter than at any other time of the year.

Tonya Minshew has been a registered nurse for 30 years and currently works at the Baldwin State Prison. She said that germs can lurk everywhere, from the handles of shopping carts at Walmart to the serving spoons in buffet restaurants.

The winter months are the influenza virus’s peak time of the year.

Minshew said that when sick people cough and sneeze into their hands, they transfer that sickness to the surface of the next thing they touch.

Alice Loper, who has been a registered nurse for 35 years and is currently the director of student health services at Georgia College, agreed.

“All it takes is one good sneeze from somebody, and they’ll spread that cold to everyone around them,” Loper said.

Loper and Minshew said they encourage everyone to clean their hands frequently during the winter.

“Be careful to sanitize your hands after you’re finished with them, before you put your hands on your face,” Minshew said of objects like shopping carts that many people touch.

She said that people should wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before each time they eat.

Loper agreed.

“The biggest source of infection is hands,” Loper said. “Think of everything your hands touch.”

Loper and Minshew said that leading a healthy lifestyle can help protect against contracting winter illnesses like the common cold. They said that a person can boost his immune system by eating vegetables, getting plenty of sleep and taking vitamin supplements.

“You need to arm yourself with a flu shot,” Minshew said.

Minshew also said that many people get sick just due to the change in climate that comes with the transition to winter weather. She said it is important to wear a jacket during the winter to protect the body from the elements, and that anyone who feels sick should go to the doctor for treatment.

Kinsey Charnes, who works at Chilly Milly in downtown Milledgeville, said that she alters her behavior in the winter to protect herself from the germs she knows are circulating.

“I wear my own clothes,” Charnes said. “A lot of people like to share their clothes, but I just wear my own clothes during the winter, because of all the germs.”

Charnes also said that she refrains from drinking out of the same cup as other people and washes her hands frequently to avoid contracting an illness.

For a person who is already sick, Minshew said the best course of treatment is to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and take any medicines prescribed by the doctor.

“People don’t take antibiotics like they’re supposed to,” Minshew said.

Minshew explained that a course of antibiotics is a treatment designed to be taken in its entirety. When someone takes an antibiotic for a few days, feels some improvement and stops taking the medicine, they do their body a disfavor, Minshew said.

“Don’t stop taking it just because you feel better,” Minshew said.

Taking the full course of an antibiotic as prescribed by a doctor drives an illness out of the body and protects the body against relapses of the same illness, Minshew said.

Minshew said she recommends self-care and caution, both in sickness and in health, as the best way to stay safe and healthy this holiday season.

Reed agreed.

“Be careful,” Reed said. “You never know what can happen during this time of year.”