By Gina DiPietro, Novant Health Healthy Headlines
How to navigate the holiday season amid a pandemic
As COVID-19 cases tick up across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending against travel for Thanksgiving. Experts now say the safest way to celebrate the holiday this year is at home with the people you live with.
Dr. Genevieve Brauning at Novant Health SouthPark Family Physicians said conversations about COVID-19 make up about half of what she’s discussing with patients. She offered advice on how to navigate this time of year as health recommendations evolve.
“We have a lot of control over our own risk and I think that’s empowering,” Brauning said. “We have things we know we can do to protect ourselves, like wearing a mask and washing our hands, but we also have the freedom to walk away from a situation that doesn’t appear safe.”
This is a tough one. I was hopeful we could gather at Thanksgiving this year and find safe ways to do so – masking around family members at increased risk, hosting a smaller meal or eating outside. With the rise in cases, however, we really need to heed the newest CDC recommendation to not travel for Thanksgiving. I understand it’s hard, but we should not be celebrating with people we do not live with. We have to be mindful of how easy it is to asymptomatically spread this infection.
Even if you had planned to drive, I would advise against traveling anywhere that’s outside of your own community and current bubble. The problem with travel is that we can move infection from one place to another. The CDC recommends celebrating only with people from your household – defined as those who live in the same house in the 14 days before the celebration. So, if you already interact regularly with family members who live in your city and you’ve been consistently exposed to them over the past two weeks, then I don’t think it’s the same restriction as people you don’t regularly interact with.
For people who still choose to host others or travel, the CDC offered guidance on how to do so as safely as possible, like spacing chairs far apart, celebrating outdoors and laying out mask expectations for guests ahead of time. This is not the year to hug your grandmother or other loved one who’s in a higher risk category.
The other thing I think is a huge barrier for people is fear of judgment. Saying you will not come home or asking someone not to come can be difficult. I think we all need to let go of any judgment or guilt for doing things to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, because that is standing in the way of some people making safer decisions.
Black Friday shopping
I do think stores are going to be more mindful of the number of customers they’re allowing in. I know some big retailers have announced they will count and limit the number of guests, but I think this is the year for online shopping. Please try to avoid any place that you can’t be sure you can keep a distance of at least 6 feet.
Kids returning from college
Many colleges are closing for the semester and those students must return home. There’s a lot of worry in the medical community that it’s going to be a significant spreader. I recommend that students get a COVID-19 test before leaving school. If they’re tested and they’re being very diligent about isolating and wearing a mask, that’s going to be helpful.
I think we also need to revisit this very uncomfortable idea of masking around our family and within our household. It seems so unfamiliar, but it would decrease the risk of asymptomatic spread if someone new has returned to your household. Masking for that initial exposure time can be key.
Groceries are a necessity. Avoiding the grocery store isn’t entirely possible, but the more we can spread out when we go is helpful. People who can go on a weekday or early in the morning when crowds tend to be smaller should do so. That way people who work during the week will have a little more space on the weekends. So, the more we can spread out the times we are going, the less people we are exposed to. Also, be diligent about wearing your mask.
Maybe it’s worth a small fee to get groceries delivered or choose the drive-thru option where they shop for you and place the groceries in your car. You do not need to sanitize all your groceries, but make sure to wash your hands after you put away your items.
Christmas and more
It’s still uncertain what the recommendations will be for Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years, but the outlook will be best if people heed the CDC’s current recommendations.
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