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Celebrating the Winter Holidays Safely During COVID-19

December 10, 2020
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It’s the gift that keeps on giving – COVID-19 – but it’s not a present you want to give or receive this Christmas.

“The risks of contracting the coronavirus leading up to Christmas and afterwards are even greater than they were for Thanksgiving because of all the traveling, shopping and parties associated with the holidays,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Medical Center.

“The greatest gift you can give someone this holiday season is to protect them from getting the virus,” he added.

Dr. Paez noted that the world has already been gifted with an early present – several vaccines to fight the coronavirus.

“While we expect great promise from these vaccines, the difference they will make in our return to some semblance of normality will not be felt until sometime next year, perhaps not until mid-year or the fall season,” he said.

Yet, despite the good news about the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is forecasting that there could be an estimated 9,500 to 19,500 deaths the week of Christmas alone.

Travel During COVID-19

Who doesn’t want to be “home for the holidays?”

But, once again as they did for Thanksgiving, the CDC is advising against travel for the upcoming winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Las Posadas.

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” cites the CDC as cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, and deaths are increasing.

For those who must travel, the CDC recommends being tested for COVID-19 before and after your trip. They advise getting a test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, as well as reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel. And for those who do not get tested, the CDC recommends reducing nonessential activities for 10 days after travel.

Parties and Gatherings are not recommended

The message hasn’t changed much when it comes to partying for Christmas, whether in someone’s home or at the office – if you must – the smaller the better and outdoors if possible (not always possible in New England). And, of course, if you do party, wear a mask and socially distance, noted Dr. Paez.

In Massachusetts, according to an order from Gov. Charlie Baker, indoor gatherings at private residences are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings at private residences are limited to 25 people.

“To be honest, it’s going to be hard to socially distance in a party atmosphere and enjoy it at this same time. Also, If just one person isn’t wearing a mask, that’s a problem. And, where alcohol is involved, you’re much more likely to let your guard down where safety is concerned,” said Dr. Paez.

As for your celebrations with family and friends, the CDC says the safest way to celebrate the holidays is “at home with people you live with.”

Visit the CDC’s website, cdc.gov, for a full article on “Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings,” which explains the risks of holidays gatherings and offers tips on how to stay safe.

Shopping and COVID

As Thanksgiving approached, the CDC recommended not going shopping in crowded stores, a suggestion which still stands as coronavirus surges are even greater now than around Thanksgiving.

Also, the White House COVID-19 Task Force recently noted the country is “at a very dangerous place and the COVID risk to all Americans is at an all-time high,” stating “everyone over 65 with significant health conditions should avoid public places if possible and wear a mask when leaving the house.”

“As much as possible, use curbside pickup if shopping or shop online,” said Dr. Paez.

“These are hard decisions to make around the holidays at a time when family is everything and getting together is so important. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the vaccines we are now seeing, and the sacrifices we make this year can keep everyone safe until we can all be together once again next year,” added Dr. Paez.

Whatever way people choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, Dr. Paez reminds everyone to follow some commonsense safety precautions that public health experts have been recommending since the start of the pandemic to keep you and others safe from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask
  • Social distance staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone not in your household
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Don’t go out when feeling sick and avoid contact with those who are sick.

Learn more about COVID-19 safety.