After two years of small gatherings, Zoomgivings, and presents dripping with hand sanitizer, many families are ready to reclaim their holiday travels and traditions. However, news of a growing ‘Tripledemic’ is threatening to put a halt to those festivities. Dr. Michael Mina, leading epidemiologist, explains, “the recent surges of COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are fully expected ramifications of a new virus that caused massive swings in human behavior. We know that immunity is working exactly as it was supposed to, and in this case, it means that we drained population-level immunity by not having exposures.” But does this mean it’s time to download the latest version of Zoom? Not exactly. Here are 8 Holiday safety tips you and your family can practice this season to keep your focus on your feast.
8 Holiday Safety Tips:
Keep Surfaces Clean and Disinfected
Make sure to maintain clean and disinfected surfaces. Especially if you’re planning to have larger gatherings in your home. Using food-grade safe disinfectant, like Purell Surface cleaner, allows you to disinfect your high-use areas while still prepping your culinary masterpieces. However, if you don’t have food-grade safe disinfectant on hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends diluting your strong cleaning products with water, washing your hands right after, and using a fan or open window to ensure proper ventilation.
Skip the Potluck Dinner
Many of us enjoy the experience of cooking our best dish and coming together to share with family and friends. However, amid surging respiratory infections, it’s important we protect our food from direct contact with several different people and their environments. Embrace your inner chef and try to prep, cook, and eat at a central location. Starting the day earlier and cooking as a group could be a wholesome substitute for the potluck tradition.
Keep Your Family Close and Your Bubble Closer
During this holiday season, avoid direct contact or prolonged contact with those outside of your family gatherings or quarantine bubbles. Not only do you protect your and others' immune systems from new exposures, but you also create easier contact tracing in the event someone does get sick. Therefore, when it comes to packed malls and grocery stores, try to avoid peak shopping times. Additionally, buying online or utilizing grocery delivery services significantly reduces your direct contact with large crowds.
According to a study done by the Transportation Security Administration, this fall will be the busiest travel season since 2019. For those who are or who have family who are vulnerable to COVID-19, flu, and RSV, traveling presents two big risks. Getting sick while traveling and getting a vulnerable family member sick during your holiday. However, telling your loved ones, you’re skipping holiday dinner this year isn’t an easy task, so you should start those conversations now. Robert Taibbi, clinical social worker and therapist, advises “You want to do this as soon as possible, so people have a heads up. Because they’ve already bought the 25-pound turkey…” Additionally, it gives them time to process the information since not everybody shares the same understanding of diseases.
If You DO Travel, Be Prepared and Flexible
We understand if you’ve already made your promise to family or if you, yourself, refuse to have another holiday apart. There are three ways to increase your safety and reduce your risk while traveling. First, although masks are no longer required on trains, planes, and transportation hubs, infectious disease experts recommend continuing to mask up in these places. As Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious disease at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, puts it, “You don’t know who you are going to be sitting next to on a plane. You don’t know if that mild cough is allergies or if they are coming down with COVID, RSV, or influenza… And then you’re going to be sitting next to them for a while.” Second, the dates when you travel are just as important as the trip itself. For example, as the table shows, the best day to depart for year-end travel is December 18th, while the worst day would be December 22nd. Additionally, be prepared to adjust living and local transportation arrangements to fit your flight time. And finally, despite your best efforts, you still could get sick. Having an emergency plan for cancellation is essential to decreasing stressful financial situations
Set Your Immune System Up For Success
Fortify your body’s natural defenses. As the aforementioned Dr. Mina explains, “We’ve allowed our immune systems to drain and not get training over the last two years” With the influx of infectious diseases, our bodies need to be prepared for that incoming training. Overall, training your immune system looks a lot like maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, here are four tips that are essential;
First, mix healthy eating decisions with your holiday feast. Limit your saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and sugars. Seems impossible for your holiday menu? Try Hartford Healthcare’s Guide to a Happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
Second, focus on decreasing your stress and increasing your physical activity during the holidays. You can even combine them by going on walks with family after dinner or playing a safe game of flag football with friends before dinner.
Third, get some sleep! The CDC reports losing precious hours of sleep can directly impact different parts of the immune system.
Finally, avoid smoking and alcohol consumption. Use Country Living’s list of holiday drinks to help switch out some of the holiday cocktails for delicious non-alcoholic substitutes.
Get Your COVID Booster and Flu Shot
Boosters are a part of the process of immunization. The shot triggers your immune system to attack the foreign item, just as if you were to actually get the disease. This helps your body “remember” the disease-causing germ so that if you are exposed to it again, your antibodies can recognize and kill it before it causes harm. Seth Cohen, MD, an infectious disease physician and medical director of infection prevention and control at UW medicine in Seattle, suggests, “Everyone who is eligible should get the COVID-19 bivalent vaccine booster designed to target omicron.” Further, checking your community for flu shots a few weeks before your large gathering is key to making sure you have boosted immunity for your vulnerable family and friends.
Keep COVID-19 Tests Handy
For our last holiday safety tip, at-home COVID-19 tests are excellent tools in the disease prevention toolbox. Bring several with you when you travel, or stockpile them at home for the entire family to test together. For example, the eMed® COVID-19 +Flu Telehealth Kit™ is the first at-home kit that can help your families rule out COVID-19 and influenza. But more than being prepared, it's important you’re testing at the right times. Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, epidemiologist and director of population health analytics at Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, encourages testing two days before your departure and the morning of your event. Ultimately, if you have any symptoms after the holiday, you can use the telehealth kit to test and receive treatment immediately.
This winter will indeed look different for every family. And like the two years before us, viruses like COVID-19, influenza, and RSV, will bring unknown challenges to our daily lives. This time around is unique in that there aren’t national or state-wide protocols to assist you and your loved ones on navigating our much-needed interactions. However, there is an abundance of resources and information available so that you, your family, and your friends can come together safely this year. So from eMed to you, be prepared, be flexible, and be safe this holiday season. We wish you lots of health and good fortune.