Tips for staying safe from COVID-19 at holiday celebrations

The holidays are just around the corner, but many people are concerned about how to celebrate this year amid the COVID-19 crisis. Should you fly to see family? Should you participate in any outdoor holiday event? Should you even see local family members?

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have significantly increased locally and across the nation. The combination of cold weather and larger gatherings is contributing to this rise, and the holidays could exacerbate that.

“When colder weather starts and we move indoors where there is less space between us, there’s more opportunity to spread the virus,” said Dr. Christopher Penn, an infectious disease physician with LMH Health. “When we think about the traveling that will happen around the holidays, we can anticipate an accelerated spread between communities. We’re on a rise right now, so that’s a concern.”

It is as important now to continue practicing all the safe practices as it was toward the beginning of this year, especially rolling into the winter months. However, there are still ways to be jolly and safe this year.

Penn said the first step in planning a safe event is paring down your guest list.

“The first thing to plan on is keeping the attendees to people that are within your own personal bubble,” he said.

If your holiday gathering includes anyone you don’t live with, Penn said, you should take precautions — you don’t necessarily know where all of your extended family members have been or whom they’ve been around.

Penn also said it’s important to think about how your family members normally behave before inviting them to a gathering or going to theirs. If you don’t feel safe, it’s OK to prioritize your health and skip a family gathering or choose not to invite some family members.

Another thing to keep in mind, Penn said, is whether any of your family members are at high risk from COVID-19. That includes people ages 65 and older.

“As age increases, so does the likelihood of developing severe illness,” Penn said. “When it comes to a family member whose health you may be concerned about, everyone needs to make their own decision.

“Having been through this personally, it’s a difficult decision to limit yourself or your family during the holidays, but you need to decide if this must be done now,” he added.

When you’re at a gathering, remaining 6 feet apart and opening a window to increase ventilation are both good ideas, Penn said. He also said that bigger locations that give people more room to spread out are ideal.

Penn also advised people to keep their gatherings short. He said the longer you’re going to be in close contact with other people, the greater the likelihood that the infection could be passed.

If you are hosting a family gathering at your home, continue to think about your health and safety first, because your health could ultimately impact others. He said that’s especially true for the people who are cooking holiday dinners.

“Make sure those who are preparing the meal are using good hygiene when they’re cooking,” he said. “Bringing dishes with you is a good idea. Be mindful that kitchens can get hot and sweaty and masks get uncomfortable.”

Especially if there are high-risk people at a gathering, Penn said wearing a mask is important. He said you also should not attend a family function if you’re feeling sick, of course, and that people should explore ways to visit virtually if at all possible.

“This can be challenging,” he said. “But these are unprecedented times. We need to keep doing the things that are keeping us safe as the pathway to a vaccination continues to progress.”

Penn said it’s best not to travel at all this season. However, if you must travel, it’s safer to do so by car than by plane, he said.

“Besides the plane, traveling also concerns me because of the lines and high volume of people, especially around the holidays,” he said. “Do not travel if you are sick. If you must travel, make sure you are very strictly following all safety precautions — hand hygiene, mask wearing and social distancing.”

Even if you’re traveling by car, you might still need to take precautions, Penn said.

“It is better to travel by car, but also best if those in your car are in your inner circle,” Penn said. “If they are not, ask yourself what you will do to protect yourselves, whether it’s wearing a mask or opening a window.”

It’s easy to come into contact with COVID-19 without even knowing it, so Penn said this holiday may be a good time to take care of yourself, rather than rushing around to visit other family members.

“When we put ourselves out there and visit other people, I think about the people that depend on me,” he said. “If I’m told tomorrow that I have to quarantine for 14 days, what effect will that have on them? There are big implications if you get a call and are told that you’re a close contact. Honor those around you by taking care of yourself.”

— Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.


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