A family celebrating Christmas virtually on computer

Countdown to a “COVID-Christmas”

Tips for Celebrating Safely and Staying Positive

As the prevalence of COVID-19 holds firm into this holiday season, rethinking celebrations – as difficult as it may be – could help you and your family stay safe. Here are a few suggestions for keeping the virus out of your holiday plans, while keeping the joy in.

Opt for Virtual Gatherings

“People who are still considering hosting or attending gatherings should keep in mind the factors that can contribute to increased COVID-19 risk,” said Dr. Zach Baeseman, ThedaCare family medicine practitioner in Waupaca and Wild Rose and Associate Medical Director of Primary Care. “Traveling will increase the risk – airports, gas stations, rest areas all mean potential exposure to the virus.”

As Wisconsin continues to set daily records for positive cases, with a positivity rate near 40 percent on COVID-19 tests, and more than 330,000 positive tests in the state, people are urged to seriously consider alternatives for connecting with family and friends.

“While it’s difficult to think about not hosting Christmas as usual – especially after such a long, tough year – it’s a better practice to ensure your family members are safe,” said Dr. Baeseman. “With continued positive cases in the Midwest, even small holiday gatherings are risky. It’s best to host events virtually and limit gatherings to those within your own household.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says those in the same household include family members or roommates living under the same roof.

Keep Safety Top of Mind

For those planning to hold a holiday gathering, regardless of public health recommendations, Dr. Baeseman reiterated suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Limit gatherings to 10 people or less
  • Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather
  • Host activities with only people from your local area as much as possible
  • Provide updated information to out-of-town guests about any COVID-19 safety guidelines in place in your area
  • Consider asking all guests from outside of your household to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering

Without exception, you should avoid in-person holiday gatherings if you:

  • Have, or have been exposed to COVID-19
  • Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • Are waiting for COVID-19 test results
  • Are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19

“Remember, you may feel totally fine and still have COVID-19,” Dr. Baeseman said. “Young and healthy-seeming people can pass the virus unaware to a grandparent or other relative who maybe can’t fight the disease as well. It’s better to be safe this year than sorry.”

Start New Traditions

Instead of a holiday gathering, consider safely dropping off gifts or cookies for friends and family. The CDC says there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by handling or consuming food, but when people do eat together, they should avoid sharing utensils and should always practice frequent handwashing.

“Just because you might not be there physically with family members, don’t become socially distant,” said Dr. Baeseman. “This year, maybe you could make new traditions.”

Weather permitting, you could even opt to celebrate outdoors with a Christmas-tree cutting or outdoor decorating party while also practicing social distancing. Outdoor heaters and bonfires can provide some relief from the cold for small outdoor parties.

Not recommended this year are children’s visits to Santa and caroling, which can cause the virus to carry farther.

Travel Safely

If you must travel, pay attention to the rates of infection in the places you plan to visit. The CDC offers an online CDC COVID Data Tracker at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days.

Fliers should also book direct flights whenever possible to avoid layovers at other airports, wear a mask at all times and follow social distancing guidelines in security lines, etc. For those traveling on public transportation such as buses, trains or the subway, wearing a mask is an absolute must.

If traveling by car, the CDC reminds everyone that stopping for food, gas or bathroom breaks will put them in close contact with others and recommends:

  • Limiting stops as much as possible
  • Bringing snacks and drinks from home or using drive-through restaurants for eating
  • Having a good supply of hand sanitizer available for everyone
  • Wearing gloves or using wipes to sanitize handles/buttons on gas pumps before use
Combat Holiday Stress

The holidays might be especially difficult this year because many of us have been distancing from friends and family over the past nine months, and holidays are typically a time to come together.

Here are some suggestions to help with holiday stress in 2020:

  • When you talk with your friends and family about plans, it is okay if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others
  • Do what’s best for your household, which includes eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep
  • Take care of your body and stay active to lessen fatigue, anxiety, and sadness

“This pandemic is nothing like we’ve experienced before,” said Dr. Baeseman. “We’ve adapted and changed many areas of our lives over the past nine months, holidays will likely be the same. Let’s stay positive – what new traditions can and your family create? How can you take more time to focus on the things that are important to you? We should all encourage one another to find safe ways to celebrate this special time.”