Opinion: How to celebrate holidays and prevent COVID-19 spread

Rachel M. Klamo

For many, the holidays are indeed the best times of the year.

It’s when we gather in our homes, at restaurants, at places of worship, and at work parties to celebrate faith, gratitude and the new year with family, friends and colleagues. We come together to break bread and toast our successes; pray for peace, love and hope and remember those who have passed.

The 2020 holiday season will be disappointingly different. It will be sad and difficult for all of us — and it’s not fair, but it is necessary. It will be nothing short of tragic for those whose livelihoods depend on income from the season just to survive and stay in business.

Here are some tips so you can make the most out of your holiday gatherings and reduce the risk of spreading or getting COVID-19, Klamo writes.

As a family physician, I’d like nothing more than to tell you it’s safe for all of us to celebrate the 2020 holiday season together as normal. I’d like nothing more than to see my children, hold my mother’s hand before our Christmas dinner, sing my favorite hymn at church and party with friends and family on New Year’s Eve.

But right now, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations are surging to record highs in Michigan and nationwide. That means we must change our 2020 holiday plans to protect our health and our lives and, more important, to protect the health and lives of the people we are traditionally with at the holidays.

Why? Because COVID-19 is highly contagious and deviously sneaky. You may have COVID-19 and never display symptoms and never get sick. Still, because you carry the virus, you can spread it to your grandfather who is being treated for cancer, to your daughter who is expecting her first child or to your friend who has health challenges and a weakened immune system. If they get the virus from you, their reaction might be tragically different than yours.

While the holidays will be different this year because of COVID-19, your family and friends can be together safely, either online through a virtual channel or in-person.

Here are some tips so you can make the most out of your holiday gatherings and reduce the risk of spreading or getting COVID-19:

►Know community levels of COVID-19 in Michigan: Review the MI Safe Start map before you have gatherings to know the level of viral spread in your community and the communities where your guests may be traveling from. If there is community spread, refrain from hosting or attending a holiday gathering. Consider a virtual gathering using online meeting software instead.

►Choose a safe location for the gathering: Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities if possible. If you choose to host an indoor event, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces. Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on Michigan’s winter weather.

►Limit the duration of the gathering: Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.

►Have masks and hand sanitizer available to guests: Provide hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Have disposable masks available. Stock bathrooms with hand soap and single-use towels.

►Follow public health orders limiting the number of people at the gathering: Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. A Dec. 21 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order limits attendance at indoor gatherings to people from no more than two different households to reduce the number of contacts and risk for spreading the virus. Outdoor gatherings are limited to no more than 25 people.

►Know the behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering: Gatherings with attendees who are not adhering to social distancing (staying at least six feet apart), mask wearing, hand washing and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventive behaviors.

With COVID-19 vaccines soon to be broadly available statewide, the 2021 holiday season promises to mark a return to normal times. For the 2020 holidays, give the gift of health and safety to people you love. For more information, please go to www.Michigan.gov/Holiday2020.

Rachel M. Klamo, DO, MS, is the chief of family medicine for Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital and the treasurer on the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians board of directors.