The holiday season is coming soon and with that comes gatherings and celebrations. But with the ongoing pandemic, public health officials are concerned about an inevitable spike in the number of COVID-19 cases and other respiratory viruses. The CDC says small household gatherings are “an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.”
“This has been a long, hard year; even for those of us dedicated to wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and engaging in social distancing. It can be tiring, and the holidays may feel like an easy time to relax our efforts,” said Dr. James Kirk, an infectious disease specialist at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City. “We must remember the virus never rests, so we must stay vigilant and make smart plans in advance to help keep ourselves, our loved ones and the community at large safe and healthy.”
Here are a few tips to celebrate safely and help limit the spread of the coronavirus in our communities. These are suggestions and are not meant to replace any federal, state or local safety laws, rules, and regulations.
- Consider a virtual celebration. According to the CDC, this poses the lowest risk for spread.
- Wear a mask: If you plan on spending time with anyone who does not live in your home, wear a mask, especially if there is a chance you may not be able to maintain 6 feet or more of distance at any given point.
- Plan social distancing in advance: Don't let yourself or attendees of any gatherings you're hosting be caught in an uncomfortable situation that could potentially promote the spread of COVID-19. Have a plan for how people who do not live in the same home can stay 6 feet apart – or more – at all times.
- Be cautious when eating: The holidays and family meals go hand in hand. However, since we can’t eat or drink with masks on, this can become a troublesome time for unknowingly transmitting COVID-19. If you must eat in a group setting, try to stagger the times that attendees eat and ensure 6 feet or more of distance between each person. Spreading out outdoors or in a larger, more open room is preferred to a more confined space, although masking and social distancing are still recommended outside.
- Limit your numbers and the duration of the gathering: The fewer people gather together, the fewer people may be exposed to the virus if an asymptomatic person is a member of the party. Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
- Keep your hands clean: Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and/or use a hand sanitizer often.
- Don't share: Viruses can live on surfaces, so it's best to avoid touching things that may be touched by others. Use disposable items and label them to help lessen the risk guests may accidentally eat or drink after each other. Don't plan games or activities that promote several people touching the same objects.
- If you're sick, stay home: Even if you don't suspect COVID-19 is the reason you feel under the weather, it's better to play it safe and not run the risk of exposing others. Take advantage of videoconferencing technology to connect from a distance.
“We know that the holidays this year will be different, so having a plan is a good way to make the best of things – including when it comes to limiting the spread of infection,” Dr. Kirk said. “With COVID-19 as in sports, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.”
For more guidance on holiday gatherings, visit the CDC’s website.