How to Handle the Holidays During COVID-19

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laptop with family members on screen during holidays

Many of us consider the holiday season our favorite time of year. At the first sign of crisp, cool days and changing colors, our anticipation begins to build. We can’t wait to take part in our beloved holiday traditions, festivals, pageants and gatherings. To slow down a little. To enjoy one another. To reflect on our recent accomplishments and challenges. And to think about our goals for the upcoming year.

With COVID-19, we’ll need to make some changes this holiday season. Since coronavirus is known to spread through close person-to-person contact, the parties and celebrations of old create opportunities ripe for the virus to thrive: Activities like traveling house-to-house to collect candy, giving thanks over a meal with family and friends, and celebrating our beliefs with songs and large get-togethers.

But while everything may look a little different this year, take heart. Together, we can find new ways to maximize this cherished (and much-needed) time while protecting ourselves, and one another, from coronavirus.

Set Expectations for a New Norm

Over the past year, we’ve all adjusted to a new way of life: We’ve worked from home, scheduled virtual doctor’s appointments and taught school from the kitchen table. That flexibility and willingness to do what’s best for our community will continue to serve us well over the upcoming months. Even so, it isn’t easy to accept that we may not be able to celebrate the holidays exactly as we’d like. Taking some time to wrap our minds around how we can manage everything we’re feeling will go a long way in helping us adjust.

As a first step, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to grieve the “old” normal. Grief isn’t just for those who’ve experienced traumatic loss. It’s okay to grieve over precious time lost with loved ones or over canceling a party you look forward to hosting every year. Acknowledge those feelings while still trying to stay as positive and thankful as you can.

When you’re ready to make plans, think “out with the old and in with the new.” Consider how you could stay connected with family and friends — near and far — while still ensuring everyone’s safety. Video calls, for example, have been a mainstay over the past few months: Put that technology to work again over the holidays. You could also call a family meeting to brainstorm fresh new ways to celebrate or talk about new traditions that just might stick for years to come.

Manage Your COVID Risk

As you begin to plan your holiday celebrations, keep in mind that some activities have a lower risk of spreading COVID-19 than others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) separates activities into three categories: low, moderate and high risk.

  • Low risk: Virtual-only activities, events and gatherings or celebrations with only the members of your household are best. Hosting or attending outdoor and in-person gatherings that follow safety precautions — such as only inviting a small number of guests from the same “isolation bubble,” wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart and avoiding the sharing of food or drinks — can also be managed with low risk.
  • Moderate risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that follow safety precautions — such as wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart, and limiting the number of guests — but include guests from outside the immediate bubble or involve sharing food and drinks put you and your family at moderate risk.
  • High risk: In-person gatherings that make it difficult to stay 6 feet apart and/or include guests traveling from outside the local area put your family at high risk.

Whenever possible, opt for lower-risk activities. And, as you go about your holiday plans, remember the 3Ws:

  • Watch your distance. People can spread COVID-19 even before they know they’re sick or have any symptoms. Stay at least 6 feet apart from others not in your household to reduce your risk of being infected – and infecting others – by droplets that carry the virus.
  • Wear your mask. Masks are proven effective at helping reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. You should wear a mask whenever you’re out in public or around people not in your immediate household. That includes wearing a mask when you’re at a friend or family member’s holiday party.
  • Wash your hands. Good hand hygiene can also help keep you healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. (And remember to keep those hands off your face and mask!)

Finally, a flu shot can also keep you and your loved ones healthy through the winter months. While it won’t prevent you from getting COVID-19, it can reduce your risk of getting the flu. It also helps keep hospitals and doctor’s offices from getting overwhelmed with flu patients at the same time they’re managing COVID-19.

Travel Safely

Many families celebrate the holidays by traveling to see out-of-town relatives. If you decide to travel by car or plane, keep these safety precautions in mind:

  • Always wear a mask in public – at the airport, on the plane or at a rest stop
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is ill
  • Follow local or state travel restrictions or recommendations
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Wash your hands frequently

Learn more about the CDC’s travel recommendations during COVID-19.

Get Creative

It’s important to remember that these recommendations from the CDC, public health officials, and local and state leaders aren’t meant to keep you from enjoying the holidays; they’re meant to keep us all safe.

No matter how you celebrate, it is possible to follow the safety guidance and still have fun. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Have a holiday bake-off: Invite your kids into the kitchen to create a holiday dessert or treat. Once their dishes are ready, score each one and give the winner a special prize.
  • Host a virtual holiday dinner: Invite family and friends to a virtual dinner over video conferencing. While it isn’t quite like being in the room with your loved ones, sharing this time virtually is the next best thing. Encourage everyone to share the meaning behind certain dishes (like why they’re eating foods fried in oil, or matzo for Hanukkah, or fruits and vegetables during Kwanzaa). Your guests will appreciate the opportunity to share about their own — and learn more about others’ — traditions.
  • Participate in a virtual recipe swap: Share your favorite recipes. Then, have different families make and rate these special dishes.
  • Plan a neighborhood craft contest: Invite neighbors to join you outside for a BYOC (Bring Your Own Craft) contest. Spread out across a few neighboring yards so you can ensure an appropriate social distance and get to work. After the contest, you can also ask everyone to display their creations for others to see.
  • Schedule a family movie night: No matter how you celebrate, you have options for great holiday movies and treats. From “Miracle on 34th Street” to “Ghostbusters,” you’re sure to find something the whole family will love.
  • Spread holiday cheer by connecting with local community organizations: You may not be able to volunteer in person, but many organizations are still in need of donations and support. Select an organization near and dear to you, and encourage family and neighbors to join in.
  • Take a drive to see holiday light displays and decorations: Many neighbors and businesses decorate for their favorite holidays. Take your family on a hunt for carved pumpkins, haunted houses, holiday lights, menorahs in windows — there are so many possibilities. The best part? You can enjoy the sights and sounds from the safety of your own vehicle.

Let’s Have a Safe, Happy and Memorable Holiday Season

Let’s all make a commitment to stay safe and keep others in mind as we plan out our holiday activities. Always follow guidelines from your local health department and government officials — such as the Georgia Department of Public Health Daily Status Report — and pay attention to the current COVID-19 levels in your community. Official guidance can help you determine when you may need to postpone or cancel any events you’re hosting or stay home from those you had planned to attend.

About Emory Healthcare

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