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But just because the holidays don’t look the same as others this year, there are still ways to celebrate holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah,and safe New Year, according to the CDC Holiday Guidelines and other health authorities.
As important as the holidays are to many people, they also pose many health risks during a global pandemic. “The vacations are higher risk activities for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Sandra Kesh, infectious disease expert and physician at WestMed Medical Group. “In general, you let family from other areas come together, so you go beyond your household. And every time there is a social event and alcohol is involved, which is what most people enjoy during the holidays, there is that risk of looser behavior “. says Dr. Kesh.
In order to celebrate the holiday safely, keep in mind that just because it is a holiday, you should not relax on the safety guidelines that you follow in everyday life, such as distance yourself and wear masks.
For some people, the safest decisions for themselves or those around them may be to forgo meetings, travel, parties, and visits altogether. Even if you are not a person at risk for a serious illness with COVID-19, if you were to be exposed right before the holidays, you should have a plan to isolate yourself from others.
The risk of getting together with friends and family can vary depending on the number of cases in your city or community. If there are cases where you or your family live, that increases the risk of transmitting the virus during a holiday gathering. Keep reading below to find out what the CDC and Dr. Kesh recommend that you do to stay safe this holiday season. Keep in mind that these are guidelines for limiting risks. The only way to make sure you don’t spread or become infected during a holiday meal or party is to not be there in person.
Is it safe to visit people during the holidays?
The holidays and travel usually go hand in hand. But this year the decision to travel is not that easy. Travel (especially air travel) is still one, according to health authorities and doctors, such as Dr. Kesh.
The CDC stresses that the only truly safe way to see people during the holidays is to celebrate with people you currently live with. “The more you move outside of your immediate household, the greater the risk,” says Dr. Kesh. The safest way to get together is with smaller groups, preferably outside. And if you can’t keep your gatherings out, social distance and masking will become even more of a priority.
If you decide to gather with people outside your household or from another area, Dr. Kesh suggests that those people prepare for a visit by isolating themselves before the meeting. “Ideally, everyone should really isolate a few weeks before they get together and limit their contact with other people and, when they go out, be careful about masks and social aloofness. If everyone follows those rules for a few weeks before Thanksgiving or Christmas, that certainly lowers your risk once everyone gets together, ”says Dr. Kesh.
Keep in mind that many states have protocols for people traveling from high-risk areas. If you are traveling from a high-risk state to visit loved ones, be sure to check state and local guidelines. You may have to quarantine and be tested for 14 days before you can see other people. That adds a lot of time you need before traveling to and from a high-risk area.
The CDC points out that not all groups of people can adhere to the same safety guidelines for holiday celebrations. People who are considered to be at high risk for serious illness from contracting COVID-19, such as the elderly, people with pre-existing health conditions, and people who are immunocompromised, are not allowed to participate in gatherings this holiday season. If you personally aren’t considered risky, but live with people who are, you should opt out of holiday gatherings as well. As disappointing as it may seem, this is literally a life or death scenario that requires sacrifice from all humans to keep everyone safe until the pandemic subsides. Other people who should not attend or organize holiday gatherings include those with COVID-19 symptoms, those exposed to the virus, and those waiting for test results.
Best practices for safety at holiday gatherings
If you attend gatherings with friends or family this holiday season, the CDC first encourages people to opt for virtual celebrations or spend time with your own household. If you decide not to follow these guidelines, know that other types of meetings involve risks.
To reduce that risk, try holding events outdoors weather permitting, keeping groups small, and encouraging social distance and wearing a mask, regardless of location. Dr. Kesh also suggests that children wear masks while playing with other children or interacting with guests. “Kids can wear this [virus] and don’t be symptomatic, ” says Dr. Kesh.
Eating and drinking is usually the focus of many holiday gatherings, but it is also a riskier aspect. “I don’t think it’s a great idea to sit around the table with people outside of your household, because masks go off. We do know that aerosol is released as well,” says Dr. Kesh. Since the virus can sometimes be airborne, it is important to keep the air moving with fans, open windows, or air filter systems if you are gathering indoors. This is even more important when there are a number of people coming together in a smaller space.
Finally, Dr. Kesh suggests limiting alcohol at meetings or at least designating one or more people who don’t want to drink so they can make sure everyone stays safe, keeps their masks on, and social distances. “The social events where people start to drink, all the rules go out the window. Everyone feels comfortable. The masks go off. Everyone comes closer. So I think maybe one designated person in the family is the monitor and everyone understands that they enforce the rules and everyone abides by the rules, ”says Dr. Kesh.
Safety tips for students coming home
Students usually get a break over Thanksgiving, and many will be visiting their families for the holidays this year. Since many college campuses have become hot spots for COVID-19, it’s especially important to take extra precautions when students come home.
First, you need to decide whether having a dorm this year poses significant risk to the people in your household. If the student is on a high-risk campus with many cases or has friends or roommates who may have exposed them to the coronavirus, they are more likely to carry the virus. This is especially problematic if people living in your household, or those who plan to come for Thanksgiving dinner, are at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. In either case, you may need to rethink your students coming home to visit, or make sure they completely isolate themselves for 14 days before doing so. It is also a good idea to get the student tested before coming home.
You should also strongly consider whether your student should return to campus shortly after the holidays, which will prevent them from having enough time to isolate after being exposed to family at home before returning to school. If that’s the case, as painful as it may seem, the safest plan is not to let them come home for Thanksgiving.
The types of trips that your student may need to participate in to get home can also complicate the risk. For example, if they have to fly instead of driving a car alone, they could also come into contact with the virus during the travel process and bring it home. No matter which scenario you choose that is right for your family, always following recommended safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask and socializing with people outside of your household, can help minimize the risk.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.