This time of year, many families are deciding, if not finalizing, holiday plans.
However, with the recent and continuing spikes in COVID-19 cases across the Greater Spokane Area and warnings from state health officials about the fall surge in cases running parallel to flu season, we’re suddenly faced with a bigger question this year: How can we have healthy and happy holidays?
Many factors influence the risk of spreading COVID-19, including many that might impact holiday plans. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, either – just how each family has its own set of holiday traditions, and plans that might be considered safe for one family might be risky for another.
I hope the following – which the CDC has detailed in its holiday resources – helps you determine what’s best for yours.
How can I gauge if my plans are risky?
Based on what is happening in Canada with a surge in cases two weeks after their Thanksgiving holiday, it’s prudent we take extra precautions here in the states as our Thanksgiving approaches. If you do decide on a family get-together, here are a few considerations:
Limit the size of your gathering as advised by your local authorities.
Try to keep the gathering to no more than two households.
Have one person serve the food. Limit handling of utensils.
Seat older relatives away from family who have high contact with others in their daily lives.
Practice social distance – perhaps separate tables with 6 feet of spacing between.
Wipe all doorknobs and surfaces before guests’ arrival and consider asking folks to wear masks before and after dining.
Prepare individual plates and avoid community bowls or platters.
Consider taking a prepared meal to absent senior family members rather than having them attend the group dinner, especially if they’re high risk.
Whose responsibility is it to manage risk?
We all share the responsibility of mitigating the risk of spreading the virus, not just to keep ourselves healthy, but others, as well.
Since certain groups have heightened chances of contracting the virus, extra precautions should be taken with seniors and individuals with certain chronic illnesses, underlying medical conditions, cancers and/or weakened immune systems.
Wherever your family is considering traveling to/from, look up the number of cases at home and your destination, especially if you’ll have college students coming home for break.
We all can help by getting our flu shot (if you haven’t already), avoiding high-risk situations (and waiting an additional five days after traveling and before gathering in case you’ve unknowingly been exposed) or – in the words of one patient – simply deciding to “not do what we normally do” this year.
What options does that leave?
Even if we can’t be physically gathered together this year, we can still find ways to preserve relationships with loved ones, our favorite holiday traditions and our health.
Maybe it’s enjoying a virtual holiday meal with extended family, swapping letters of gratitude with grandparents or compiling a cookbook filled with your family’s favorite holiday recipes.
Think beyond what is convenient for your immediate household and consider multiple perspectives, especially grandparents who play a very meaningful role in many families.
Like most things in life, the holidays this year will depend on finding balance. Whatever that might look like for your family, we should all try to reflect on what we do have rather than dwell on what we’re missing.
If we do, we’ll realize that there’s still plenty to celebrate this season and even more to be grateful for right now.
Dr. Jeff Markin is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Veradale Medical Center.
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