The COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging and isolating for many people. The holidays are generally a time for people to reconnect with family and friends, but it is important to remember you can spread the virus that causes COVID-19, even when you feel healthy, and others may spread it to you. Many communities, including Kansas City, are currently experiencing high rates of community transmission of COVID-19. Getting the flu vaccine before your holiday celebration is a great way to protect yourself and others against other viruses that we see this time of year. Below are some suggestions for modifying your holiday plans to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help keep everyone safe.
Wear masks and physically distance. Physical distancing and wearing a face covering are two of the most important things we can do to protect ourselves and protect others. Even outside, we can find ourselves in crowded spaces where we can’t physically distance, particularly when multiple people may be together. Wearing a face covering adds an additional layer of protection. Since the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads by droplets, putting as much space between you and others helps keep everyone safe.
Be vigilant about good hand hygiene. Hand hygiene is important to protect yourself over the holidays, not only from the virus that causes COVID-19 but also the other viruses we see during this time of year. Wash your hands when coming inside your house from outside, before you eat, after you use the restroom, before touching your face and anytime they are dirty. Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands.
Take your gathering outside. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily in areas that are not well ventilated, so people are more likely to become infected in poorly ventilated indoor areas. When people are outside, they can physically distance and air flow is increased, which decreases the spread of the virus. When it gets cold, get creative! Jackets, hats, scarves, gloves and even blankets can help keep us warm while we see people in a safer manner.
Limit the duration of your celebration. Unfortunately, there is no magic number that is completely safe. The closer you are to someone for a longer amount of time will increase your risk of getting the virus that causes COVID-19. You can make these interactions safer by moving visits outdoors, having everyone wear masks, physically distancing, practicing hand hygiene and not sharing food or drinks.
Limit the number of people. Many people have created “bubbles” of people they are around on a regular basis. The safest approach to the holidays would be to celebrate with those that are in your bubble. But if friends and family from outside your bubble are attending, remember anyone can have COVID-19, even people who feel healthy. The more people you are around, the higher your risk is for getting the virus that causes COVID-19. Physically distancing and wearing a mask can decrease this risk.
Be careful with food preparation and avoid buffets. Be sure to limit the number of people in the food preparation area. Consider having guests bring their own food and drinks and having individual serving dishes for each household unit.
Monitor behaviors leading up to the holidays. To keep everyone safe, be sure you and your guests have not engaged in risky behaviors. This can include not wearing a face covering and participating in crowded events where physical distancing is not possible. If you don’t feel comfortable with your guests’ actions, feel empowered to suggest a safer, alternative visit - like a virtual celebration.
There is no magic number for group sizes this holiday season. Mixing households and the number of people at your gathering can increase the risk of COVID-19 spread. The virus is easily transmittable when we spend face-to- face contact with each other. For families choosing to get together this holiday season check out the tips to the left. Consider finding other ways to show your love and gratitude to each other. Instead of tight hugs and kisses, consider elbow bumps and air hugs and kisses, 6 feet away. Exchange cards and signs with written words of love and appreciation for each other.
Being around grandparents
Older adults are at higher risk for serious illness with COVID-19. Since you can spread the virus to grandparents and other high-risk adults, even when you feel well, take extra precautions if you are going to be around them during the holidays. These precautions would include wearing a face covering, practicing physical distancing and washing your hands.
For families traveling during the holidays, it is important to wear a face covering, practice physical distancing and have good hand hygiene while you are traveling to your destination. It is important to get a flu vaccine this season, especially before traveling. Instead of traveling to visit high-risk family members, you may want to consider a virtual celebration instead.
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Director, Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program; Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Education Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Kansas School of Medicine