The holiday season is upon us, but this year, with COVID-19, traditional family gatherings bring a dangerous risk for the spread of the disease. Huntington Hospital’s Kimberly Shriner, MD, infectious disease specialist, has prepared a few tips to help you make the most informed decisions about how to spend the holidays this year.
1. If you must gather, keep your celebrations short (no more than two hours); small (no more than 10 people, preferably smaller); social distance (at least six feet apart); and, wear masks when not eating. Ideally, gather outside where there is ample fresh air.
2. People over 65 (with or without pre-existing illnesses) are at high risk of COVID-19 – they are more likely to suffer the worst effects of the virus, if they become infected. If you have 65+ members in your family, consider a drive-by event or family online session (via Zoom, FaceTime, etc.) to connect instead of an in-person gathering.
3. A negative COVID test is not a greenlight to gather, necessarily. Incubation periods can vary, and exposures can happen at any time.
4. This is also not the time to gather closely around a fireplace and sing holiday carols together. Singing, yelling, speaking loudly, blowing out candles, whistling, playing wind instruments or any type of game that requires close contact should be avoided. Alternately, a family slideshow or home movies with guests sitting six feet apart could be a safe activity that everyone could enjoy.
5. Identify one or two people to serve meals to guests and avoid a buffet. If you want to enjoy your favorite leftovers, bring your own to-go containers to avoid cross contamination.
You might have plans to travel to a different location either by air, train or car. While we strongly recommend that you consider postponing those travel associated events until a vaccine is widely available and the danger of COVID diminishes a bit (perhaps as soon as this spring), we understand that travel may still be required. We encourage you to weigh all your options and consider the impact of your decisions on your family and community.
This holiday season is going to be challenging, as we are creatures of habit and savor our traditions. We can reframe our thinking around the holiday to think about giving our family and community the greatest gift of all – health and wellness. So many lives have been lost throughout the world due to COVID-19. It’s important that we collectively work together to help each other get through this unprecedented pandemic.