The fun and festive holiday season is upon us. Unfortunately, this year the holidays are going to look remarkably different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some public health experts are advising against families getting together during the holidays as the safest way to go — some even suggest video chatting with relatives as an alternative.
But that doesn’t mean that in-person gatherings can’t be done. It just takes extra planning and attention to reduce the risk of spread of the coronavirus among family members. Read on for Doylestown Health experts’ tips to keep everyone as safe as possible during times of physical togetherness.
Limit Numbers and Time
According to Doylestown Health Infectious Disease physician Michael Kimzey, DO, FACOI, fewer people in attendance lessens the risk of virus spread. Limit your gathering to 10 people or so and include only immediate family.
The length of the gathering is another important consideration. Try to keep your holiday event shorter than usual because the longer people are together and in close proximity, especially indoors, the greater the risk.
While it’s best to quarantine for 14 days before getting together to prevent the spread of COVID, it may not be feasible for all families. The next best alternative would be to quarantine the week and weekend before the holiday. “We know that most people come down with COVID symptoms after exposure between day three and day five. So by doing a modified quarantine, you can be somewhat confident you don’t have COVID at the time of the holiday,” explains Bridget McEnrue, BSN, RN, CIC, director of infection prevention at Doylestown Health.
If you are the host, share your expectations with all of your guests before the get-together. For example, make it clear that if they have any symptoms of COVID or general illness, including fever, cough, headache or sore throat, to stay home, suggests Dr. Kimzey. This is also a good time to let guests know your plan to keep everyone safe will be enforced (i.e. social distancing, mask wearing, hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks before arrival, etc.).
Include Vulnerable Relatives
It is essential to reach out to elderly relatives during this time to let them know that they are included and to leave the decision up to them whether or not to attend the holiday get-together. For some people, the mental health impact of being isolated for a major holiday is more of a risk than exposure to the virus. So be flexible and attentive to their safety, advise the experts.
“Maybe you bring grandparents over right before dinner so they can see everyone, and then they go home after they eat,” suggests Bridget. Or seat them in a separate area and have others come to them for masked visits throughout the holiday, she adds.
Focus on Fresh Air
As you likely know, spending time outdoors is preferable to indoors when it comes to lessening the risk of COVID spread. If it’s warmer on the holiday, encourage everyone to be outside even if it’s just part of the time, for example, during appetizers. If it’s colder, a small tent with a heating source could be an option, Dr. Kimzey adds.
“Anything you can do outside, do outside,” Bridget emphasizes.
Likewise, when gathering inside, consider cracking open windows throughout the home to facilitate airflow and keep the virus from potentially spreading in stagnant air.
Mask Up and Wash Hands
When not eating, always wear a mask and encourage others to do the same, especially around vulnerable family members.
“Masking works,” Bridget adds. Consider having disposable masks available to anyone who might have forgotten one.
And while we hear the mantra regularly, washing our hands with soap for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer as a backup can significantly cut down on the risk of virus transmission. When hosting, be sure to have an ample supply of soap and hand sanitizer available for all guests. When visiting, bring your own supply to the gathering.
The good news is that holiday potluck meals are safe, the experts say. To date, there is no data suggesting that COVID is spread through food. The experts recommend serving the meal buffet style, beginning with hand sanitizing. They also suggest arranging scattered seating areas versus having one big table with many people sitting elbow to elbow without masks where the virus might linger.
According to Bridget, the bottom line for keeping safe during the holidays is to trust your gut on the risks of hosting an event or attending one. “The most important thing to remember is what you decide is best for your family is correct for your family.”
About Doylestown Health
Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 271 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.