Do the holidays feel a little different this year? If you think so, you're certainly not alone. While this past Thanksgiving kicked off the annual season of celebration, health experts warned the public against attending typical family gatherings in order to stymy the spread of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, 9 million Americans still ventured through airports to see their loved ones. Now, epidemiologist are concerned that coronavirus cases will surge over the next six weeks due to these family 'superspreader events,' making an already dire situation in the United States even worse.
With Christmas and New Year festivities around the corner, it's important to remember that staying safe this holiday season doesn't simply depend on wearing coronavirus face mask protection. You should weigh the risks of gathering with family and take extra precautions to protect everyone involved. Here are some tips to help you safely navigate the holidays ahead.
How to Assess Coronavirus Risk at a Gathering
Several factors contribute to the risk of transmitting and spreading the coronavirus at small family gatherings. Here are the most important ones you should consider:
Community Coronavirus Infection Levels
Check the number of COVID-19 cases in your community as well as the community you're thinking of celebrating the holidays in. Are numbers soaring in your family's chosen gathering location? Are attendees coming from high-infection areas? Take this data into consideration to make the best decision for your safety.
Exposure During Travel
If you are hosting traveling family members or are traveling yourself, be cautious and realistic about the risks involved. Airports, gas stations, rest stops, as well as train and bus stations are all places that people can be exposed to the coronavirus in the air or on surfaces.
The Place of Gathering
Indoor gatherings carry more risk of coronavirus infection than outdoor gatherings. This risk is substantially multiplied in small, enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.
The Duration of Gathering
How long will your family gathering last? The longer, the greater probability of coronavirus infection. Let's put this in perspective: If you're within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for only 15 minutes, your chances of becoming sick are drastically increased. In fact, you should immediately conduct a 14-day quarantine.
Number of Attendees
The more people that are attending your gathering, the greater the risk of coronavirus infection is. You should use the size of your holiday gathering space to figure out how many people you can safely host. Attendees from different households should be able to maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.
Are individuals at your gathering consistently adhering to social distancing, handwashing, and mask-wearing? If not, they significantly increase the risk of coronavirus infection. On a similar note, gatherings that implement more safety measures like the ones we just mentioned pose less of an infection risk than celebrations with few or no preventive measures. Keep in mind that the use of alcohol or drugs can impair people's judgment and make it harder to practice coronavirus safety measures properly.
It's Your Responsibility to Weigh the Risk
By assessing the various risks discussed above, you should be able to gain a clearer perspective of your own personal risk for coronavirus infection. It's imperative that you weigh these concerns against your other responsibilities. For example, if you or a loved one is at a higher risk of a severe case of COVID-19, then you must do what's necessary to protect yourselves. And if that means skipping the holiday gathering, that's completely fine.
Also, be aware that your situation can change suddenly. Whether that means a positive test or an onset of symptoms, the best-made plans can be altered at the last minute. This is okay, too. It's vital that you and your family members are able to adapt accordingly — safety is the main priority here.
Quick Holiday Gathering Safety Tips
If you've decided to attend or host a holiday gathering, these safety tips can go a long way towards ensuring everyone has a good time and stays healthy:
Are You Attending a Holiday Gathering?
- Bring your own food, drinks, utensils, plates, and cups.
- Use single-use options such as disposable plates, utensils, and food containers.
- Wear a face mask and safely store it while eating and drinking.
- Avoid going in and out of areas where food is being handled.
Are You Hosting a Holiday Gathering?
- Have your gathering and meal outdoors.
- Limit the number of attendees.
- Set safety expectations with your guests ahead of time.
- Sanitize frequently touched items and surfaces between use.
- If you are celebrating indoors, open your windows for better ventilation.
- Have guests bring their own food and drink.
- Limit the people in food handling areas.
- If sharing food, one person should serve the food.
- Use single-use options.
- Make sure that all parties from different households can maintain 6 feet of distance from one another.
Always Practice Coronavirus Safety Fundamentals
Make sure to keep an eye on the COVID-19 infection rates in areas where attendees are coming from as well as your intended place of gathering. Be objective when considering whether it's safe or not to hold your holiday celebration. Other than that, don't forget the essential protocols of coronavirus safety:
Wear Face Mask Protection
Whether you prefer cloth face masks, surgical masks, or neck gaiters, make sure your coronavirus face protection has two or more layers. This helps substantially in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Make sure the mask fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and the sides of your face.
Stay 6 Feet Away from Others Who Don't Live With You
Remember that it's possible for asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers to still spread the virus. So do your best to keep 6 feet away from other people that don't live in your household.
Sanitize Your Hands
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. Keep hand sanitizer on your person in case you can't wash your hands often. And make sure your hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol.
We know that things are a little different this year. If you're making sacrifices and forgoing your usual holiday celebrations, remember that you're not alone. Also remember that you're doing this to protect your loved ones and yourself.
This year's festivities may not feel so festive, but it's for a good cause. By taking preventive measures now and choosing to be cautious, we're increasing the chances that we can celebrate future holidays with our families and friends. Stay safe out there.
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