By Dr. Carla Garcia Carreno, Infectious Disease Specialist at Children’s Health℠ | Contributor
The holidays are usually filled with festivities and gatherings with friends and family, but this year, celebrations will look different – especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that gatherings with friends and family who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. The safest way to celebrate the holidays is to stay home with members of your household. It’s important to consider any risk factors within your community and family.
Although limiting holiday activities may be the right thing to do, it isn’t easy. After all, family traditions and visits with loved ones bring joy during difficult times.
Here are a few tips to help support your family’s health as you navigate this unprecedented holiday season.
1. Know the risks of holiday gatherings
When considering a holiday get-together, think about who within your family has risk factors for becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. This may include people over the age of 65 and people with chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease or diabetes. If anyone has these risk factors, it’s best to avoid any gatherings. Virtual gatherings are the safest way to celebrate with others outside your household.
If you choose to see family or friends, consider making celebrations smaller by limiting the number of households attending and where your gatherings occur.
Opt for an outdoor get-together with appropriate social distancing to increase safety. If your celebrations are inside, wear masks and consider opening the windows to improve ventilation. Each household member should sit at least six feet apart from each other when eating and avoid potluck or buffet-style meals.
It’s also recommended to have one person serve the food to everyone and have that person wash their hands thoroughly and wear a mask. Another option is to have each family bring their own food and utensils.
Suggest that anyone attending a gathering quarantine at home for two weeks before the event, if possible. Very importantly, if anyone is feeling ill, make sure they and their household members remain at home.
It’s helpful to set these expectations prior to any gatherings as not everyone may be on the same page about how to respond to COVID-19, so focus on making a plan in advance that you and your family are comfortable with.
2. If you do travel, plan carefully
This year, it’s best to stay close to home as traveling adds additional risk of spreading COVID-19. If there’s no way around traveling this holiday season, plan ahead and take precautions to limit exposure. If possible, don’t stop during traveling and always wear a mask if you have to go inside an establishment. If you stay at a hotel, review their cleaning policies to ensure they are doing everything to keep you safe. See more advice for traveling during COVID-19.
3. Keep taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Whether you visit family or not, you need to continue practicing everyday precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as:
- Social distancing
- Staying home if you are sick
- Washing your hands frequently
- Wearing a mask over your mouth and nose in public
Additionally, make sure everyone in your family over the age of 6 months gets a flu shot this year to help avoid getting sick.
Ahead of the holidays, ask your primary care physician about any office closures and have a plan of who to contact if someone in your family gets sick. For instance, the pediatrician office may be closed for the holiday but might have a nurse line you can call if needed or a recommendation for a virtual visit.
4. Avoid holiday crowds
During the busy holiday season, take care to avoid large groups of people, especially indoors. Consider using services like online shopping and curbside pick-up to limit trips to the grocery store or the mall. If you have to run an errand in person, try to choose a less busy time of day and always wear a mask.
Choose other holiday activities wisely as well. Standing in a crowd, even when taking precautions, can add risk of contracting COVID-19. Whenever possible, celebrate holiday activities at home. For instance, swap out a yearly trip to meet Santa Claus in-person for a virtual visit with Santa, allowing your children to safely share their holiday wishes.
Remind your child that the best gift they can give their family this year is staying safe and remember that you’re not alone in navigating this unusual holiday season.
ABOUT CARLA GARCIA CARRENO:
Carla Garcia Carreno, M.D., diagnoses and treats children who have a rare infectious disease or suffer from more common infections that require complex treatment. She is a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at PID Associates and the Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s Medical Center Plano. She is also a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of America. From rare tropical diseases in Venezuela to complicated local infectious problems, Dr. Carreno has treated a wide variety of infections. This gives her the expertise to help children overcome even the most complex illnesses.
“We team with physicians in the process of solving difficult and uncommon clinical scenarios. I work hand-in-hand with experts across Children’s Health℠ to understand their illness and find a treatment strategy that works,” she says. “It’s an incredible privilege to be able to help these children.”
Dr. Carreno earned her medical degree from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. She then completed residencies at Pediatrics Hospital Universitario de Caracas in Venezuela and at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, a Texas A&M College of Medicine Residency Program. She came to UT Southwestern Medical Center in 2007 for her fellowship training in pediatric infectious diseases.