2020 … what a year! As a community we have drastically changed the way we live our daily lives. It has been challenging not to hug our friends and family, or in some cases even see them, or go to the movies, or do most of our normal activities. The good news is that it seems there is an end in sight with new therapies, additional testing, proven safety procedures such as wearing a mask in public, and vaccines on the way. However, experts predict that it will be well into 2021 when we can resume normal activities, which means the upcoming holidays will be different than we are used to. This doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the holidays; you just need to get a little creative and take extra precautions.
The State of Massachusetts has travel orders in place that apply to state residents who want to travel out of state, as well as those who want to visit friends and family in state.
If you are going to celebrate, the CDC recommends you keep it a small gathering and take precautions if the celebration includes anyone outside of your own household. If you have friends or family who have not quarantinedprior to a small gathering, or who have been sick, or know they have been exposed to COVID-19, the CDC recommends celebrating virtually with friends and family.
"Even for people who have had COVID before, we know that reinfection is possible and we are still learning about this virus. The CDC recommends: At this time, whether you have had COVID-19 or not, the best way to prevent infection is to: wear a mask in public places, stay at least 6 feet away from other people, wash your hands, avoid crowds and confined spaces especially during this holiday season. We are all COVID fatigued and miss our loved ones that we are not able to see - our patients and our front-line workers feel it too! Please remember that washing hands, masking, and social distancing from people you love and miss will keep them and you safe. 2020 has been a tough year, let's all work together to bring in 2021 with health and hope," said Jennifer Trieu, MD, Medical Director, GRMDC.
For those who are celebrating in person, physical distancing, wearing a mask and hand washing remain three of the best ways to help prevent infection. “It is important to remember how key handwashing is to staying safe and healthy. As we see the numbers of COVID rising in our communities, we want to do our parts in reducing the spread of COVID, flu, and other seasonal illness. Handwashing continues to be an effective way to reduce these germs and prevent the spread of infections. So as you are preparing food, and celebrating with family, keep in mind that handwashing is just a few steps (water your hands, lather your hands with soap, scrub for at least 20 seconds, rinse thoroughly and dry off with a clean and dry towel!) so that you can get back to your holiday meal,” said Afi Mansa Semenya, MD.
On their COVID-19 information page, The CDC offers a great list of considerations for hosting or attending a holiday gathering:
- Check the COVID-19 infection rates in areas where attendees live on state, local, territorial, or tribal health department websites. Based on the current status of the pandemic, consider if it is safe to hold or attend the gathering on the proposed date.
- Limit the number of attendees as much as possible to allow people from different households to remain at least 6 feet apart at all times. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.
- Host outdoor rather than indoor gatherings as much as possible. Even outdoors, require guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
- Avoid holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household
- Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather, or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
- For additional information on increasing ventilation, visit CDC’s information on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home.
- Winter weather can be cold, wet, and unpredictable. Inclement weather makes it difficult to increase ventilation by opening windows or to hold an event outdoors.
- If setting up outdoor seating under a pop-up open air tent, ensure guests are still seated with physical distancing in mind. Enclosed 4-wall tents will have less air circulation than open air tents. If outdoor temperature or weather forces you to put up the tent sidewalls, consider leaving one or more sides open or rolling up the bottom 12 inches of each sidewall to enhance ventilation while still providing a wind break.
- Require guests to wear masks. At gatherings that include persons of different households, everyone should always wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose, except when eating or drinking. It is also important to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not in your household at all times.
- Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors. Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
- Encourage attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Provide guests information about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps that will be in place at the gathering to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Provide and/or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help everyone to stay healthy. These include extra masks (do not share or swap with others), hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and tissues. Stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels.
- Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items, such as serving utensils.
- Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible. Use EPA-approved disinfectantsexternal icon.
- Use touchless garbage cans if available. Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
- Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
- Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household.
If any of these considerations have you concerned, it’s best to err on the side of caution and celebrate with the only the members of your household. But you can still stay connected! Perhaps a virtual celebration is a better alternative for you. It’s true that many people are experiencing virtual conference call fatigue but why not try baking or cooking together via telecon or even setting up your screen at the dinner table! “One way of safely celebrating the holidays separately but together is to have a baking or cooking contest where everyone cooks the same dish but creates their own twist and then comes together via zoom to share their creations,” offers Jordana Price, MD, Family Medicine, GRMDC.
"It feels like this pandemic has been going on forever, and I can commiserate with fellow parents who are feeling exhausted. It's hard to keep up the precautions day after day. But I want to cheer you (and myself) on that there is light at the end of the tunnel. With vaccines on the horizon, I am hopeful that 2021 will be a much better year. So while it is hard to stay socially distanced during the holidays, I do think that keeping our families safe is the best care we can give them this year," said Paul Ahn MD, Pediatrician, GRMDC.
We will get through this together and soon look back on the COVID-19 pandemic as a memory. Please check back often for information about the vaccine and any updates on testing at GRMDC. Happy Holidays.