This week, many families and friends will decide whether or not to gather to celebrate Christmas together. After many months apart, our way of life being turned upside down, most likely agree that the thought of spending yet another special day apart feels unbearable. While experienced in different ways, the stress and isolation resulting from the virus has touched everybody.
Thanksgiving gatherings resulted in what many experts compare to “a tornado picking its spots [rather than] a hurricane blowing down everything in its path”. In late November, the virus was already surging, and now it’s on a steady, seemingly unstoppable climb. Daily average cases have now reached 72.5 per 100k and one person dies approximately every 11.4 seconds. And yet, people may still wonder if there is a way to be with family safely over this holiday week.
Beyond the horrifying statistics, many personal accounts will tell you that despite best efforts to establish layers of protection for Thanksgiving, such as outdoor gatherings, additional ventilation when gatherings were indoors, masks, hand washing, etc., the virus still spread. Experts have shared that the danger of this coming week is the opportunity for people to attend several gatherings; office parties, celebrations at different households, baking parties, religious gatherings, and many other festivities are all opportunities for the virus to spread and continue to devastate our communities.
Again, health professionals recommend you celebrate the holiday week with only those in your household, meaning people that live in your home. The CDC shared these factors that impact the risk factor when participating in small gatherings. Please keep in mind that the combined risk of all these factors should be weighed:
- Community levels of COVID-19 – High or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in the gathering location, as well as in the areas where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Family and friends should consider the number of COVID-19 cases in their community and in the community where they plan to celebrate when deciding whether to host or attend a gathering. Information on the number of cases in an area can often be found on the local health department website or on CDC’s COVID Data Tracker County View.
- Exposure during travel – Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces.
- Location of the gathering – Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor ventilation (for example, small enclosed spaces with no outside air), pose more risk than outdoor gatherings.
- Duration of the gathering – Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires quarantine.
- Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart, wear masks, wash hands, and follow state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations.
- Behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering – Individuals who did not consistently adhere to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask wearing, handwashing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than those who consistently practiced these safety measures.
- Behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more safety measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing, pose less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented. Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures.
If you do choose to expand your celebration beyond your household, please read these precautions that we shared, as well as this detailed guide from the Centers for Disease Control, before doing so.
Throughout the pandemic, many households have established “pods”, or small groups of people with which they interact. It is a seemingly safer alternative to openly interacting with others. But, unless people within the “pod” are themselves completely quarantined- meaning not leaving their homes or interacting with anybody outside their households- it is nearly impossible to guarantee that every additional contact has adhered to strict precautions, putting everybody at risk. And so, experts have communicated alarm that this coming week, many households may expand their circle even more as they celebrate Christmas. Overwhelmingly the opinion among healthcare providers is that the safest choice at this time is to spend the holiday with extra precaution- maintaining the celebration within your household.
Within the past several weeks, we have witnessed two vaccines- from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna– receive emergency approval to be administered to the public. The speed with which this was accomplished is astonishing and is a large step in our nation healing and turning the corner from the devastating impact of the virus. Vaccines have already arrived in many cities and the process of administering them has begun. After almost an entire year of working to adjust to the “new normal,” it would be a devastating if, as a result of the choices made this coming week, our nation experiences yet another surge in cases and deaths. Please, stay safe this week. Together, our choices can either result in slowing the spread and devastation of the virus, or bring yet another wave of the tsunami.