COVID-19 complicating holiday plans? Experts weigh in

Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, but like most everything else this year, these events will likely look a bit different than normal as the holiday season coincides with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Many may be wondering: Is it safe to see friends and family? Should I travel? How can we include grandparents and other older family members in the celebrations this year while keeping them safe?

When speaking specifically to Thanksgiving earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said people will have to make “their individual choice” when it comes to how to go about celebrating the holiday this year.

“I think we need to realize things might be different this year, particularly if you want to have people who are going to be flying in from a place that has a lot of infection — you’re going to an airport that might be crowded, you’re on a plane, and then to come in — unless you absolutely know you’re not infected, there are many people who are not going to want to take that risk,” he told Yahoo News at the time, noting that his three children have decided against coming to see him this year.

Speaking to Fox News, Dr. John Whyte, the chief medical officer of the health care website WebMD, echoed these comments, noting that there is “no one size fits all approach.”

“It all depends on your family members’ health conditions as well as what is going on in your local area as well as where you may travel,” he said.

“If you are going to visit in-person with elderly family members or others at increased risk, it might be a good idea for everyone to get a COVID test a few days before the gathering,” he suggested. But even if the result is negative, “that doesn’t mean throw all the usual safeguards out the window,” he said, such as social distancing and wearing a mask.

“But if it’s positive, it tells you it’s a no-go,” added Whyte.

While celebrating outside may be an option for some, Whyte said it’s not realistic to do this in all areas, as late autumn temperatures could make this unbearable in colder parts of the country.

“Rather, I tell people it’s still a good idea to open a window while inside and cut down on the time of a gathering,” he said, suggesting two to three hours as opposed to six to eight.

“Move around while there. The shorter time might benefit your mental health as well,” he quipped.

Additionally, “consider doing smaller gatherings with 10 people or less depending upon the size of the house or apartment. You could also invite a couple of people over at a time and do it on different days. No one says you have to only celebrate on the actual holiday this year,” he said.

If your family chooses the virtual route for the holidays this year, Whyte suggested to “consider making the food ahead of time and then sending it out so everyone shared the same meal.”

“[That] may be more of an effort this year, but might help for feeling ‘together,’” he said.

Whyte’s advice comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19-related holiday guidance. Overall, the agency said “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” but if you “must” travel, to be aware of the risks involved.

The federal agency states a low-risk way to celebrate this year would be to have a small dinner with only the people who live in your household and preparing meals for higher-risk friends and family that can be delivered. It also suggests watching sports and parades from home rather than in person and having a virtual dinner.

Meanwhile, having small outdoor dinners with family and friends who live within the community is considered a “moderate risk” activity.

The CDC also recommends limiting the duration of in-person gatherings and warns to avoid participating in any holiday events with other people if you have symptoms of or have been exposed to the new coronavirus.

Other recommendations ahead of the holiday season can be found here.

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