Pandemic or not, it's prom season for high school students.
And that concerns Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
"Prom is going to be a challenge and, just frankly, not a very good idea," Ohl said earlier this week. "It epitomizes all the things we tell people not to do."
He revisited that sentiment during his weekly news conference on Thursday. Proms, by their nature, are typically fraught with behaviors that come with risk during a pandemic — slow dancing, eating, mingling. That doesn't even include two staples of a typical prom night — eating in a restaurant with a large group of friends and hanging out with friends into the wee hours.
"Transmissions are going to occur," Ohl said. "I guarantee you."
Several school districts in the region are having district-sponsored proms, including Stokes and Yadkin counties. Others, including Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Davie County Schools, are not. In districts with no official prom, some parents are organizing private proms, including one at Truist Stadium in Winston-Salem for East Forsyth High School students.
Official proms and other milestone events were canceled last year because of COVID-19.
Ohl acknowledged that, regardless of his warning, proms will continue to take place. He offered a few suggestions for parents.
"The first thing is talk to your kids. They do listen," he said.
Some of his tips include getting your child vaccinated if he or she is 16 or older. Pfizer vaccinations are approved for people as young as 16. It may be too late for students to be fully immunized by the time of prom, but one shot taken three weeks before prom will provide up to 80% protection against the virus, Ohl said.
Prom-goers should also get tested the morning of or day before prom. While at the prom, students should use hand sanitizer frequently, avoid slow-dancing, wear a mask and stay within their bubble of friends. Some proms will be outdoors, which is a safer environment than indoors, he said.
Ohl said he is particularly concerned about before and after prom activities.
"I'd maybe try to cut those things and just enjoy the prom itself," he said.
In his weekly address, Ohl talked about some of the protocols that local schools and businesses employed to stop the spread of the virus. Some of those protocols no longer need to be followed because more is known about the virus' spread. He mentioned the health screenings that the local school district is considering eliminating for students. Those screenings involve asking students a few questions about their health and taking their temperature.
Superintendent Tricia McManus said the district is considering dropping the health screening, following the lead of other school districts and guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
"It doesn't make anyone safer," Ohl said, noting that nearly 40% of people with COVID-19 show no symptoms.
"That doesn't mean you should go to school or work sick," he said. "It's going to become your own responsibility."
Noting the transmission of the virus among young athletes in the Upper Midwest, Ohl said there's a possibility that student athletes could get tested if clusters begin to develop.
Schools spokesman Brent Campbell said the local district has discussed the possibility of testing student-athletes but will wait for state guidance on how such a program would be implemented.