Healthy Tahoe: Healthier, happier holiday celebrations

Rhonda Sneeringer, MD, FAAP

As we prepare to say goodbye (and maybe even good riddance) to 2020, the end of the year brings several holidays. Whether celebrating Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanza, and of course, New Year’s Eve, remember that indoor holiday gatherings with others not in your immediate household can put you, your community, and those you care about at risk.

As challenging as it is, staying home for the holidays is your best way to protect yourself and loved ones, and help slow the spread of COVID-19 in a time when healthcare and essential workers critically need that support.

Indoor holiday celebrations with extended family and friends, even in intimate gatherings, have contributed to the recent spike in COVID-19, and are one of the reasons public health agencies have guidelines in place to slow community transmission. Travel restrictions and stay at home orders are being enacted throughout California to address the staggering volume of coronavirus patients. The message isn’t that “Christmas is canceled” – it’s a plea to not add to the current surge that is happening.

If you are considering traveling, here are some important questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ask yourself and your loved ones beforehand. These questions can help you decide what is best for you and your family:

●Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting considered at risk for getting severely ill from COVID-19?

●Are cases high or increasing in your community or the destination you’re traveling to?

●Are hospitals or medical resources in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19?

●Are there requirements or restrictions for travelers where you live, where you work, or where you’re traveling to?

●During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?

●Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?

●Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

These are all risks to consider with gathering, which may impact the health of your loved ones or the health of your community.

What makes this year different can make the holiday season even more special by finding new ways to celebrate. Here are a few ideas.

Keep the traditions: Get in the spirit by setting up decorations and preparing foods that are special to you and capture the essence of the holiday you’re celebrating.

Practice gratitude: Remember all you have to be thankful for, and write it down on sticky notes around your home, or on cards to send to loved ones.

Take it outside: In-person gatherings are safest when kept small and outdoors. Look for outdoor activities that can be physically distanced, like a snowshoe outing on a favorite trail, or neighborhood walk to revel at lights or decorations.

Spread some joy: Team up with friends and family to have everyone pick a local nonprofit organization or charity to donate to, and have a video chat to share why that cause is important to you. A small outdoor gift exchange, or dropping ‘Secret Santa’ gifts on doorsteps are other safe ways to give.

See favorite seasonal films: Plan a household movie marathon where each person picks their favorite holiday movie. Invite friends and family to join in a virtual watch party.

Ugly sweater contest: Host a virtual fashion show via Zoom, and offer prizes for some friendly competition.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s how much the people in our lives mean to us. This year, the biggest gift you can give is keeping those you care about safe. Enjoy the beauty of the holiday season, and find connection with friends and family in new, meaningful celebrations.

Dr. Rhonda Sneeringer is the medical director of outpatient COVID-19 care, and the director of pediatrics at Barton Health.


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