Celebrating Safely this Holiday Season
It has been the drumbeat since March: Stay home or stay close to home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As we celebrate the holiday season, we must stay vigilant in our continued efforts to fight COVID-19 by finding new and safe ways to experience the joy and warmth this season brings.
What’s a holiday meal without friends or family? This year, the advice from health officials is keep it small and only eat with members of your household, which includes family members or roommates living under the same roof.
To include people outside the home, consider a couple of alternative options.
- Host a virtual meal. Share time around the table together using FaceTime or Zoom apps.
- Drop off dinner or holiday cookies to close-by friends and family at their homes. The CDC notes there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by handling or consuming food.
“Just because you might not be there physically with family members and friends, don’t become socially distant,” said Dr. Zachary Baeseman, ThedaCare family medicine practitioner in Waupaca and Wild Rose and Associate Medical Director of Primary Care. “It might be a good year to rethink gatherings while still feeling together.”
Physicians acknowledge that it has been a long, tough year, so it might be difficult to think about skipping holiday festivities as usual, but they say it is better to do so for the safety of your family members. “With continued positive cases in the Midwest, even small holiday gatherings are risky,” noted Dr. Baeseman. “People who are still considering hosting or attending gatherings should keep in mind the factors that can contribute to increased COVID-19 risk.” Traveling and being in a community with high COVID-19 levels are among the risk factors.
To improve your chances of staying COVID-free over the extended holiday weekend, check out these suggestions from the CDC on ways to stay safe at holiday celebrations and small gatherings.
- Limit the gathering to 10 people or less.
- Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces.
- Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather. Suggest to your guests that they bring a sweater or dress in layers as the home may be chillier than normal.
- Host activities with only people from your local area.
- Consider asking all guests to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 7-10 days before the gathering. Also, ask guests to take a COVID test prior to the gathering. For more information on testing across the country, go to Do I Need a COVID Test?
RELIGIOUS SERVICE SAFETY
With many upcoming religious holidays, here’s what you can expect as the pandemic is prolonged into the holiday season.
- Tune into televised or online options. Most places of worship have remained connected through online and TV services since March. Health officials say this is the best option for religious community members who are in quarantine or feel ill heading into the holiday weekend.
- Confirm the on-site schedule. Check with your place of worship for a service schedule. Start times, durations and the flow will likely vary as access to the sacraments and certain space possibly will be restricted or blocked.
- Be mindful of the 3 W’s. Places of worship will likely enforce CDC guidelines, Considerations for Communities of Faith: Wear a mask, watch your distance and wash/sanitize your hands.
“We strongly advise postponing travel and staying at home as the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” said Natalie Vandeveld, Public Health Officer and Manager at Outagamie County Health and Human Services, a Be Safe Wisconsin Partner. “Traveling increases exposure. Even if you feel well and do not have symptoms, you can still spread the virus. It is important that people who do have a known exposure stay home, get tested and monitor their health. If travelers take these basic points listed above into consideration, it will greatly reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading more through our community.”
- Pay attention to infection rates, especially in the places you plan to visit. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker for the latest information.
- Note state or city government travel restrictions. Stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, mandated quarantine upon arrival, mandated cloth facial coverings, or even state or border closures might be imposed. Check the state or city health department travel guidance for your destination and along your route. Plan to keep checking for updates as you travel. For Wisconsin, visit the state’s Department of Health Services COVID-19: Travel webpage for recommendations about travel planning before you leave and when you return home.
- Book “direct” when making flight plans. Avoid layovers at airports, watch your distance in security lines and always wear face masks.
- Wear a mask at all times for bus and train transports.
- Limit stops for food or gas and frequent bathroom breaks when on the road. Getting out of the car could expose you to COVID, so bring snacks and drinks from home or use drive-through restaurants for eating. Also, have a good supply of sanitizers on hand. When fueling cars, disinfect the handle and buttons on the gas pump with wipes before using them or wear disposable gloves, throwing them away immediately after use.
Certain people should avoid places of worship and other in-person holiday gatherings altogether. They include people:
- With or exposed to COVID-19
- Who have symptoms of COVID-19
- Awaiting COVID-19 test results
- At increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19
“Remember, you may feel totally fine and still have COVID-19,” Dr. Baeseman said. “Young and seemingly healthy people can pass the virus unaware to a grandparent or other relative who maybe can’t fight the disease as well. It’s better to be safe than sorry this year.”
The 2020 holiday season will certainly be one we’ll never forget.