As coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket across the U.S., it’s especially important that we stay vigilant this holiday season to halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. That doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate our favorite winter holidays this year—how we celebrate, however, may look a little different. Here’s our advice on how to celebrate your favorite winter holidays while staying safe from COVID-19.
Even if your holiday celebrations include less than 10 people, that doesn’t necessarily make them covid-proof. Just like with Thanksgiving, Dr. Kyle Freese, Chief Epidemiologist at STChealth, advises only seeing your COVID-19 “social bubble” this holiday season. However, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, “Travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.” With this in mind, it’s ideal to just spend time with your immediate household over the holidays. The CDC also recommends staying at least six feet away from others who don’t live with you whenever possible, and wearing a mask when you are unable to stay at least six feet apart.
“The moral of the story is to not expand your bubble to those we don’t normally see already,” adds Dr. Freese. “It’s time that we batten down the hatches with how COVID-19 is spreading locally and nationally. We need to continue to take this seriously, if not more so than before.”
Public health experts, epidemiologists and the CDC alike agree that it’s best not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“We’re at that point now where we should seriously consider not traveling,” advises Dr. Freese.
He adds, “With everything we know about the virus, travel makes it worse. We can transmit COVID-19 both individually and within communities, and that’s why we keep harping on avoiding non-essential travel. That just places everybody at a higher risk. It just makes the situation even more challenging. So, even if you feel okay, you can potentially spread COVID-19 around unknowingly.”
So what is “essential” travel?
“I think of ‘essential’ as your livelihood depends on it,” explains Dr. Freese. When determining whether travel is essential or non-essential, he likes to ask the question: “Does this travel sustain my livelihood or is it at all optional?”
If you find yourself in a situation where you must travel, the CDC has information about the risk levels associated with varying modes of transportation—the lowest risk being traveling by car, while the highest risk travel scenario is traveling by plane or cruise ship—as well as tips on how to minimize COVID-19 exposure during travel.
However, the CDC’s official stance this holiday season is that “…the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is to celebrate at home with people who live with you.”
Alternative Holiday Activities
While it’s best to only see your immediate household or your “bubble” over the holidays, that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with loved ones near or far.
Here are some alternative ways to safely celebrate the season:
- Host a virtual holiday party
- Schedule a festive activity, virtually. Fortunately, opening gifts together, mailing secret santa presents, making Christmas cards, baking festive treats, or building gingerbread houses can all be done remotely!
- Decorate your home for the holidays
- Drive or walk around your neighborhood/community and look at holiday decorations and lights
- Make thoughtful gifts—like treats, cards or crafts—to send to family and friends
Other Things To Consider
- Modify your meal planning and preparation when cooking for others for holiday events. Check out this blog post for tips!
- Always wear your mask in public (both indoors and outdoors) and when you are not able to maintain at least six feet of distance from others.
- If you must travel over the holidays, make sure you check travel restrictions for your destination. Also consider alternative ways of traveling other than flying to your destination via an airplane.
- Continue to socially distance yourself from others as much as possible.
- Wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer frequently. The CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Bring extra supplies—like hand sanitizer and clean masks—whenever you leave your home.
- Follow the CDC’s guidelines for when to delay your travel plans.
- Avoid touching your mask, noise, eyes and mouth—especially when out in public.
- Avoid crowded spaces, especially if they are poorly ventilated.
- If you haven’t yet, make sure to get your flu shot before seeing people over the holidays. MyIR Mobile provides free access to your immunization records—anytime, anywhere.
Remember the Reason for the Season
We get it—the holidays may not feel the same this year, and that can be especially hard after an already tough year. However, there is no better time to put things into perspective than now.
“People have been locked down for a long time, and not being able to see your family, especially if they are across the country, has to be just soul crushing. I get that,” says Dr. Freese. “When I’m struggling, I keep coming back to the fact that this isn’t going to last forever. If I have to sacrifice one of my favorite holidays—or even a whole year of my favorite holidays—so that next year we can have more of a sense of normalcy, then I’m going to make that investment. Every time.”
After all, it is the season of giving.