There’s plenty yet to celebrate over the next couple of weeks: Christmas, Kwanzaa, saying goodbye to 2021 on New Year’s Eve and more. With a greater festive spirit upon us this year compared to last December, some people are planning gatherings. But with the Omicron variant spurring new coronavirus cases and deaths in Wisconsin and across the country, physicians say plan carefully.

“We naturally want to greet friends and family at holiday gatherings,” says Long Nguyen, DO, Family Medicine Specialist with ThedaCare Physicians-Wautoma. “The pandemic is an unusual situation that requires attention and caution.”

Health experts recommend planning ahead and communicating expectations to celebrate alongside loved ones with safety and wellness of all in mind.

Physicians say getting vaccinated to protect against COVID-19 and the anticipated rise in influenza cases is key to cutting down on virus transmission this holiday season. In addition to all adults, COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens are available for kids ages 5 and older. Doctors also encourage the booster shot for those people who are eligible. notes where vaccines are available in Northeast and Central Wisconsin, and elsewhere. Vaccinations also likely will mean fewer people needing medical attention and testing for the flu and COVID-19, which will save time, money, and lower stress at a time when it’s usually high.

To further reduce stress and the spread of germs, as well as boost the immune system throughout the season, Sarah Wypiszynski, MD, Family Medicine Physician, Ascension Medical Group – Koeller Street in Oshkosh, suggests taking other precautionary measures when hosting or heading to a holiday gathering.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds frequently.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Eat and drink in moderation, planning to eat healthy foods.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Get plenty of rest and find time to relax.

“Allowing yourself time for quality sleep and exercise, along with keeping commitments and your budget in check, can help you manage potential holiday stressors,” Dr. Wypiszynski says. “Taking time each day to relax can help lower your stress levels and your blood pressure.”

Of course, stay home if you aren’t feeling well.

Dr. Nguyen says the danger of spreading or contracting COVID-19 is still very real this year, so he suggests the following:

  • Limit your family gatherings to those who are fully vaccinated.
  • Distance from one another at holiday gatherings.
  • Wear a mask when not eating or drinking.
  • Keep the room well-ventilated, opening windows/doors and using a window fan to push air outside.

If you still are concerned about your health, physicians say consider using video conferencing like Zoom or FaceTime rather than gathering in person. The same holds true for church services and mass, many which are still available online.

For New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations, public health officials say avoid parties in public places attracting large crowds. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers other suggestions to stay safe at Small and Large Gatherings and Safer Ways to Celebrate Holidays this month.

If traveling, public health officials say avoid crowds before doing so and consider getting a COVID-19 test once you arrive at your destination. Keep watch for Symptoms of COVID-19, which the CDC notes “may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Anyone can have mild to severe symptoms.”

Also, be sure to review COVID-19 Vaccination for Air Passengers requirements in your destination state or country. The CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

Be Safe Wisconsin partners say cheers to a COVID-free end to 2021 and a healthy start to 2022!