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Make safety a priority at holiday gatherings

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Man at holiday gathering wearing a protective mask

This year, it's crucial to guard against COVID-19 exposure and infection as plans for holiday gatherings take shape, health experts say.

“The nation is still locked in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, we have to take steps to protect ourselves, even though we want to gather with family and friends during what is normally the traditional holiday season,” says Dr. Christopher Painter, an emergency medicine physician with BayCare Clinic.

As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise, it is more important than ever, especially during the holidays, to continue practicing preventative measures, Painter says. That means a renewed commitment to social distancing, masking, handwashing and other safety measures.

“We strongly advise against attending holiday celebrations if you have tested positive for the virus, have symptoms of COVID-19, are awaiting COVID-19 test results, were exposed to someone with the virus or have an increased risk of severe illness from the virus,” Painter says.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the following guidelines to minimize the risk of exposure to and infection from COVID-19 when celebrating the holidays. The CDC recommends considering:

  • The number of COVID-19 cases in your community and the number of cases in the community where your gathering will take place. That information often is available on local health department websites.
  • Exposure while traveling, at airports, bus stations, train stations, public transportation, gas stations and rest stops.
  • Where the gathering will take place. Indoor gatherings pose more risk than outdoor gatherings.
  • How long the gathering will last. Longer gatherings pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • The number of people at the gathering. More people pose more risk than fewer people.
  • What people do before and during the gathering. Those who don't practice social distancing, wear masks and wash hands pose more risk than those who do. Drinking or drug use may make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures.

“If you believe you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or you’re experiencing symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, difficulty breathing or a new loss of taste or smell, contact your primary health care professional. He or she will direct you to the appropriate level of care,” Painter says.

“You can still enjoy holiday gatherings this season, despite COVID-19,” he says. “We’re simply encouraging you to do so responsibly and with safety as your top priority.”

Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2020