A Safe Holiday Season Means Avoiding COVID-19

ThedaCare Physician Says Families Should Consider Safety in Activities and Celebrations

December 14, 2020

WAUPACA, Wis. – As the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus holds firm into this holiday season, rethinking celebrations could help you and your family stay safe.

“While it’s difficult to think about not hosting Christmas as usual – especially after such a long, tough year – it’s a better practice to ensure your family members are safe,” said Dr. Zach Baeseman, ThedaCare family medicine practitioner in Waupaca and Wild Rose and Associate Medical Director of Primary Care. “With continued positive cases in the Midwest, even small holiday gatherings are risky. It’s best to host events virtually and limit gatherings to those within your own household.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says those in the same household can include family members or roommates living under the same roof.

“People who are still considering hosting or attending gatherings should keep in mind the factors that can contribute to increased COVID-19 risk,” said Dr. Baeseman. “Traveling will increase the risk – airports, gas stations, rest areas all mean potential exposure to the virus. People also should consider the level of COVID-19 in the community. Wisconsin has continued to set daily records for positive cases into late November with a positivity rate near 40 percent on COVID-19 tests, and more than 330,000 positive tests in the state.”

Gathering with Safety in Mind

For those planning to hold a holiday gathering, regardless of public health recommendations, Dr. Baeseman offered these suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as ways to host a safer indoor event:

  • Limit the gathering to 10 people or less.
  • 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 the weather. (Suggest your guests bring a warm sweater, as your home may be chillier than normal.)
  • Host activities with only people from your local area as much as possible.
  • Provide updated information to out-of-town guests about any COVID-19 safety guidelines in place in your area.
  • If you are planning an in-person holiday gathering with people outside of your household, consider asking all guests to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.

The CDC recommends the following people avoid in-person holiday gatherings:

  • People with or exposed to COVID-19
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19
  • Those waiting for COVID-19 test results
  • Is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19

“Remember, you may feel totally fine and still have COVID-19,” Dr. Baeseman said. “Young and healthy-seeming people can pass the virus unaware to a grandparent or other relative who maybe can’t fight the disease as well. It’s better to be safe this year than sorry.”

People should consider alternative gatherings, such as outdoor gatherings, which are a little trickier in Wisconsin’s cold weather. Consider a Christmas-tree cutting or outdoor decorating party while also practicing social distancing. Outdoor heaters and bonfires can provide some relief from the cold for small outdoor parties. Caroling is not recommended as singing can cause the virus to carry farther, and children’s visits to visit Santa are not recommended.

Instead of a holiday gathering, consider safely dropping off gifts or cookies for friends and family. The CDC says there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by handling or consuming food, but when people do eat together, they should avoid sharing utensils and should always practice frequent handwashing.

“Just because you might not be there physically with family members, don’t become socially distant,” said Dr. Baeseman. “This year, maybe you could make new traditions.”


Traveling Safely

For those who must travel, the CDC and others recommend paying attention to the rates of infection in the places they plan to visit. The CDC offers an online CDC COVID Data Tracker at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days.

Beyond that awareness, the CDC recommends fliers book direct flights whenever possible to avoid layovers at other airports, wear a mask at all times and follow social distancing guidelines in security lines, etc. For those traveling on public transportation such as buses, trains or the subway, wearing a mask is again a must.

For those traveling by car, the CDC reminds everyone that stopping for food, gas or bathroom breaks will put them in close contact with others and recommends limiting stops as much as possible. It suggests bringing snacks and drinks from home or using drive-through restaurants for eating and having a good supply of hand sanitizer available for everyone. When fueling cars, use disinfectant wipes to wipe down the handles and buttons on the gas pump before using them or wear disposable gloves – and throw them away immediately afterward.


Coping with Holiday Stress

The holidays might be especially difficult this year because many of us have been distancing from friends and family over the past nine months, and holidays are typically a time to come together. With infection rates high, the wisest choice may be to postpone a gathering of family or friends until a later time.

Here are some suggestions to help with holiday stress in 2020:

  • When you talk with your friends and family about plans, it is okay if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others.
  • Do what’s best for your household, which includes eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep.
  • Take care of your body and stay active to lessen fatigue, anxiety, and sadness.

“This pandemic is nothing like we’ve experienced before,” said Dr. Baeseman. “We’ve adapted and changed many areas of our lives over the past nine months, holidays will likely be the same. Let’s stay positive – what new traditions can and your family create? How can you take more time to focus on the things that are important to you? We should all encourage one another to find safe ways to celebrate the special time.”