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UPMC Expert: Holidays and the Pandemic

by Rutul Dalal, MD

You may be experiencing fatigue related to the COVID-19 pandemic and precautions, but now is not the time to relax your practices – especially with the holidays just weeks away. Prevention is still our best means in fighting the spread of the virus, so it’s important to follow all the latest local, state, and CDC guidance when making your plans for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and the new year.

Keep Your Loved Ones Safe

While we continue to learn more about this virus every day, one thing we do know is that human contact is the biggest opportunity for spreading the virus. While large events and gatherings increase the risk of spread, even small household gathers can be a contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases in the region. 

Here are some tips and alternatives to help you get the most out of the upcoming holidays, while keeping you and your loved ones safe:

  • Host a Virtual Holiday – Find the tech-savvy member of your family to hook up your smart TV, tablet, phone, or computer so that you can connect with family all over the world during your special event. 
  • Chose a Safe Location – Outdoor gatherings with plenty of space to socially distance are ideal for reducing the spread. It may be difficult to find an appropriate space during November and December, but if you want to meet in-person, it’s essential. In addition to social distancing, be sure to require mask wearing, proper hand-hygiene, and make sure the space is adequately ventilated.
  • Avoid a Potluck-Style Party – Identify one person to serve sharable items or have guests bring food and drinks for their household. It may seem unconventional, but researchers feel COVID-19 can spread by surfaces and objects, including utensils and food. If you share serving platters, designate a space for guests to wash hands before and after touching or eating food.
  • Follow Good Pandemic Hygiene – Keep your mask on during the celebration and only remove to eat or drink. Wash your hands after touching common surfaces and clean the restrooms regularly. Be sure to cover your cough or sneeze, and if you’re sick, stay home.
  • Choose Your Guest List Wisely – Make sure the people you invite have been careful following the CDC guidelines for the last few months. Look at inviting people who already live in the same household and share space daily. Ensure guests haven't been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the 14 days leading up to the event, are not currently experiencing symptoms, or are not waiting for a COVID-19 test results. It is also smart to ask anyone who is at increased risk to stay safe at home.
  • Quarantine Before the Event – If gathering is important for everyone, ask guests to avoid contact with people outside their household for 14 days before the gathering. It may be worth the extra effort so you can spend the special day together.

Should You Travel to Visit Family and Friends?

Every state has travel guidance posted on its health department website about intrastate travel recommendations. Travel does increase your chances of spreading COVID-19, especially if you are traveling to an area where the virus activity is high. Other tips for traveling safely:

  • Check to see if COVID-19 is spreading at your destination.

  • Check if your destination requires quarantine or other restrictions.

  • Do not travel if you are sick.

  • Do not travel if you are awaiting a COVID-19 test result.

  • Do not travel if you have been exposed to someone in the last 14 days who tested positive. 

  • Wear a mask during travel.

  • Wipe down all surfaces you use during travel before and after use.

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • If you know that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, postpone further travel.

  • Bring enough of your daily medications to last should you get sick and need to stay in your destination.

If you want to be safe this season, stay home and avoid large gatherings. If you are over 65 years of age or have a medical condition that puts you at greater risk for complications from COVID-19, or live or work with someone at increased risk of severe illness, you should avoid gatherings with people who do not live in your household.

We’ve been through a lot this year, and the pandemic will continue to be with us for some time. Our continued efforts and vigilance will contribute greatly to controlling the spread in our communities. Although it may not be like celebrations in the past, what about 2020 has been normal. Get creative and help your family, and community, have a safe and enjoyable holiday season.