Celebrate the Winter Holidays Safely During COVID-19

SPRINGFIELD — It’s the gift that keeps on giving — COVID-19 — but it’s not a present you want to give or receive this Christmas.

“The risks of contracting the coronavirus leading up to Christmas and afterward are even greater than they were for Thanksgiving because of all the traveling, shopping, and parties associated with the holidays,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Medical Center. “The greatest gift you can give someone this holiday season is to protect them from getting the virus.”

Paez noted that the world has already been gifted with an early present — several vaccines to fight the coronavirus. However, “while we expect great promise from these vaccines, the difference they will make in our return to some semblance of normality will not be felt until sometime next year, perhaps not until mid-year or the fall season.”

Despite the good news about the vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecasts there could be 9,500 to 19,500 COVID-related deaths the week of Christmas alone.

Once again, as it did for Thanksgiving, the CDC is advising against travel for the upcoming winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, and more.

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” the CDC notes as cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, and deaths are increasing.

For those who must travel, the CDC recommends being tested for COVID-19 before and after your trip. They advise getting a test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, as well as reducing non-essential activities for seven days after travel. And for those who do not get tested, the CDC recommends reducing non-essential activities for 10 days after travel.

The message hasn’t changed much when it comes to partying for Christmas, whether in someone’s home or at the office. If you must get together, the smaller the gathering, the better, and outdoors if possible (not always possible in New England). And, of course, if you do party, wear a mask and socially distance, Paez noted.

In Massachusetts, according to an order from Gov. Charlie Baker, indoor gatherings at private residences are limited to 10 people, and outdoor gatherings at private residences are limited to 25 people.

“To be honest, it’s going to be hard to socially distance in a party atmosphere and enjoy it at this same time,” Paez said. “Also, if just one person isn’t wearing a mask, that’s a problem. And where alcohol is involved, you’re much more likely to let your guard down where safety is concerned.”

As for your celebrations with family and friends, the CDC says the safest way to celebrate the holidays is “at home with people you live with.”

As Thanksgiving approached, the CDC recommended not going shopping in crowded stores, a suggestion which still stands as coronavirus surges are even greater now than around Thanksgiving. “As much as possible, use curbside pickup if shopping or shop online,” Paez said.

He added that “these are hard decisions to make around the holidays at a time when family is everything and getting together is so important. But there is light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the vaccines we are now seeing, and the sacrifices we make this year can keep everyone safe until we can all be together once again next year.”