How to Navigate the Holidays During COVID

With a little prep, masks and vaccines, you can safely celebrate the holidays during COVID.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in Michigan — along with cases of the flu now being reported — the upcoming winter holidays might have some families on edge about gathering — or at least with questions about keeping everyone safe.

Dr. Dennis Cunningham, a pediatrician and the medical director of infection control for Henry Ford Health System, is concerned that cases will rise even more in the four to five weeks after Thanksgiving, which essentially kicks off the busy holiday season, but also says that gatherings are doable, with precautions.

“I think we can enjoy the holidays with our family and close friends. We just have to remember what the risks are,” he explains.

The COVID-19 vaccine, now available for ages 5 and older, is one way to keep the ones you love safe, but you also might want to consider still wearing a mask, in some cases, to protect not only yourself, but others, he adds.

To make sure kids are fully vaccinated by the December holidays, the first shot should have been given in November. Kids are considered fully immunized two weeks after the second shot, though Cunningham says there is some protection after one dose.

Those eligible for a booster should also get those before the holidays, he says.

He also reminds people that flu is popping up now in southeast Michigan so as they get their COVID vaccines, they can get their flu shot at the same time or make sure to get a flu shot on its own before gathering.

The most important advice to keep in mind: “If you are sick, stay away from other people. We really don’t want to spread COVID or flu or other viruses around,” Cunningham says.

He took time out to address some of the traditions that bring people together and offer tips.

Santa and holiday events

“Santa is so important. I think the kids should absolutely be able to see Santa. But what I would tell the kids, ‘Santa does still know who you are even if you have a mask on,’” he says.

Outdoor holiday events, festivals and lighting ceremonies aren’t as big of a concern, he says. But for the really crowded events, Cunningham suggests wearing a mask.

Plane and train travel

Masks are still required for everyone, vaccinated or not, when traveling on trains, flying and when moving throughout terminals or on shuttles. Cunningham says he plans to fly soon, but plans to keep his mask on throughout his trip, forgoing taking it off to eat and drink even though allowed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also still recommends delaying travel until everyone eligible in your family is fully vaccinated.

If flying with unvaccinated people, other tips to minimize exposure include scheduling shorter or direct trips to minimize potential close contacts, scheduling travel during off-peak times to avoid crowds and delaying or postponing travel to areas with high COVID numbers.

Holiday gatherings

Cunningham acknowledges that wearing masks at holiday gatherings is difficult because we all celebrate with food and drink.

“If there’s a really big family gathering, masks might be worthwhile when you have lots and lots of people together, just so we don’t transmit things,” he says, adding he does worry about the older generation because they are much more vulnerable to COVID.

He says he is going to avoid large holiday parties this year, opting for smaller gatherings with family and the circle of people he usually spends his time with.

“If you go, try to space out when eating and drinking because we want to keep everyone safe,” he says.


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