If your holiday traditions involve large gatherings of friends and family, the coronavirus pandemic is going to make planning for this year’s festivities a little more complicated.
With health experts saying a third surge of cases is possible within the next several weeks, what should you be considering for celebrations of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas?
“You need to evaluate your risk as a family, depending on if you have any high risk patients in the household,” said Dr. Paula Eckardt, chief of infectious disease for Memorial Health Systems in Broward County.
The pandemic has already reshaped many life experiences — from births to weddings and graduations — as well as holidays such as July 4 and Labor day. Milestones have gone virtual or cancelled entirely. Similar precautions will need to be considered for the approaching holiday season.
Here are some tips for planning holiday celebrations while also taking care to prevent spread of the virus.
Watch the numbers
How your holiday plans shape up will largely be determined by the rate of community transmission in your area. If rates are lower, it’s probably safe to host gatherings of family and people seen on a regular basis. A higher rate of transmission in the community means a larger risk of being exposed to the virus, according to Eckardt.
“We are expecting we might have some surges in the future and it could coincide with the holiday season,” Eckardt said.
COVID-19 data for Florida and all of its counties is updated daily here.
If rates are high, consider avoiding a large holiday party or gathering, especially if you don’t know all of the guests or if they have been potentially exposed to the virus.
The World Health Organization recommends that positivity levels remain at or below for 5 percent for two weeks for governments to stay open.
Buffets and potlucks could be trouble
The smaller the gathering, the better, Eckardt said, and it’s best to limit it to people you interact with on a regular basis.
If hosting an in-person gathering, use safety measures to keep everyone safe. Try hosting it outdoors for better ventilation or open windows in the house to let the air flow, the Center for Disease Control recommends.
“It’s better for it not to be a buffet style; it’s better for someone to serve meals,” Eckardt said.
Try to serve individual plates and look for single-serving packages for items like salad dressing and condiments. Having many people touch the same bottles or utensils can risk transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Be sure to keep people away from where the food is being prepared.
Guests and hosts should wash their hands frequently and consider wearing masks.
Can I invite a college student?
College students come home during their holiday breaks. But Eckardt warns that there have been outbreaks on college campuses in Florida and beyond and now many college students may be carrying the virus without showing any symptoms.
“There is the possibility that when your college kid comes back, they could have it or may be infected,” Eckardt said.
It’s a case-by-case decision based on each family and other potential guests. Take extra precautions if there are elderly or immuno-compromised people, or others in the house with conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes that makes the virus more dangerous to them.
Consider having college students take a COVID-19 test just before coming home. Student who have been exposed to anyone who had the virus or is experiencing flu-like symptoms, they need to quarantine for 14 days.
Traveling domestically for the holidays does come with risks, but there are safety precautions you can take to mitigate them. Always wear a mask while traveling and carry hand sanitizer and wipes. Make sure to check the number of cases in your destination to make sure it isn’t a high risk area, the CDC said.
International travel can be tricky as much of world is under an advisory to reconsider travel, Eckardt said. You may be expected to present a current negative coronavirus test result before leaving and entering the U.S. Carry hand sanitizer and pack extra just in case, Eckardt recommends.
While some holiday events such as Fort Lauderdale’s Winterfest Boat Parade have been cancelled, decisions haven’t been announced on others, including the Turkey Trot in Palm Beach and the Zoo Lights in West Palm Beach. But Eckardt recommends checking the coronavirus data in the area where the event is happening before participating. The fewer cases, the safer it will be. In any case, health experts recommend wearing of masks and social distancing in all gatherings.
If case numbers are higher, reconsider attending an activity even if it hasn’t been cancelled.
Get a flu vaccine
One of the biggest ways to also protect yourself this holiday season is to get your flu vaccine, Eckardt said.
COVID-19 and flu symptoms are similar, so the flu vaccination helps eliminate any confusion there might be about which virus you have if you start exhibiting symptoms.
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