Making the most of holiday traditions during a pandemic
As the weather gets colder and we prepare for the upcoming holiday season, it is important to remember that this year, holidays will, and should, look a lot different than past years. With COVID-19 cases and deaths up across the state and country – largely because of exposure at restaurants, bars and small gatherings – most typical holiday plans cannot carry on as normal.
Michigan’s latest COVID-19 restrictions have been put in place exactly for this reason – to encourage us all to remember what precautions are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus.
I can’t stress enough the importance of being smart this holiday season, for your safety and the well-being of others. All of the precautions we take like social distancing and wearing a mask – all of that should stay the same. But the safest thing for you to do is to stay within your immediate bubble for the holidays.
Rethinking your holiday gatherings during COVID-19
The biggest concern is gatherings that include at-risk or older family members. The last thing anyone wants for the holidays this year is to be the reason that someone in your family gets sick because of a lack of precautions.
Instead, get creative with the ways that you see family. Video chats are a great way to get everyone together – especially if you have family that lives out of state. If the weather is nice enough, a small, socially distant gathering outside, a family walk after dinner or a car parade/drive-by visit are a few nice ways to see everyone in person without risk of contracting the virus.
If you are having a family meal this year, it is important that you follow extra safety precautions to make sure you aren’t creating opportunities for the virus to spread.
For family gatherings outside of your immediate bubble, it is best to celebrate outdoors, maintaining social distancing with masks on. An open garage may work for small gatherings. But it is only an option if it can provide good ventilation with some wind break and allow for social distancing.
If you plan on having food, do not share or eat inside. Buffet or family-style events are not safe. Instead, put servings of food into individual containers or ask guest to bring their own food. You can take a mask off to eat or drink (still maintaining at least six feet of distance between you and anyone you don't live with) but put it back on as soon as the meal is over.
Travel precautions to take (when you can’t avoid it)
They say there is no place like home for the holidays, but before you book flights across the country or plan holiday travel with family and friends, evaluate the risks. I recommend avoiding travel if you can. But if you can’t, be smart about it.
Follow these tips if you find yourself booking a flight this holiday season:
- Avoid traveling on busy days. It may be difficult to book flights that work around your job or home life, but avoiding the major holiday travel days is your best bet for limiting your risk of exposure to the virus.
- Wear a mask. If you don’t think you can wear a mask for the entirety of your time at the airport and your flight, you might need to reconsider whether you should really be traveling in the first place.
- Avoid eating or drinking. Removing your mask for any reason during your time on the flight or at the airport can put you at risk. Avoid touching your face in general.
- Quarantine beforehand (if you can). If you can self-quarantine for two weeks before traveling or seeing family, that is your best option to minimize risk. If you can’t, evaluate and frequently re-evaluate your risk and possible exposure to the virus before traveling.
- Have family pick you up. Skip the taxi or ride sharing service to help you get home. If you plan on being with family during your stay, avoid opening up your bubble to anyone else.
6 ways to make new holiday memories this year
This year will be hard – for everyone. But the holidays are NOT canceled. Instead, use this opportunity to make new memories this year. Fortunately, there are ways to safely spread holiday cheer without spreading the virus:
- Decorate. Make your own decorations, or order new ones online. Fill your house with holiday cheer.
- Get creative in the kitchen. Just because big family gathers are cancelled doesn’t mean you don’t get to have your favorite holiday treats. Not the one that usually does the cooking? Look for opportunities to get the whole family involved or try out new recipes. You might even find a new favorite dish!
- Go outside. With luck, some snow over the next few months means plenty of opportunities to bundle up for some good-old fashioned fun in the snow. Go sledding, have a family snowball fight, try out cross country skiing or build a snow fort.
- Watch a holiday movie. Or better yet, watch a lot of them! Have a holiday movie marathon and let everyone in the house choose a favorite. Host a virtual watch party with friends or family members.
- Read a book. Turn off the TV and set electronics aside to have a quiet night in curled up with a good book. Make it a family affair by picking a story that everyone will enjoy. Get creative by having everyone take turns reading chapters or take time to discuss the story when you are done.
- Safely drop gifts off to loved ones. If you would like to deliver treats or gifts to family members or neighbors, that can still be okay when done safely! Your safest bet: leave things on the porch with a note. If you do want to see each other, wear your mask, keep safely distant from each other outside and keep your visit very brief.
The most important thing to remember is your greatest risk of exposure comes from close contact with unmasked people. Aside from that, when you bring these gifts inside, treat them as if it was food your picked up from a restaurant or a package your ordered online.
While risk of the virus is low on surfaces, it is still better to be safe about everything. Wipe everything down, open packages and dispose of trash and transfer food to different plates or containers. Wash your hands before eating.
If you are considering expanding your bubble this holiday season, seriously assess your risk, especially if you have family members at high risk due to a health condition, age or job. You may not know if you have been exposed to the virus, even if you are being safe.
While this year will be different, it is important to remember that this year will be one that all of us will always remember because it will be memorable in its own way.
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Dr. Allison Weinmann is an infectious disease specialist and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.