Q&A: Winter & Holidays & COVID - Oh My!
This can be a stressful time of year. The weather gets chilly and windows and doors that have been open during warmer days get closed tight. Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive, bringing the need to shop and the irresistible urge to gather with friends and family. But this year is different, and likely it will be even more stressful because the guest that won’t leave is still around: COVID-19. For tips on how to manage this less-than-wonderful time of the year (at least this year), we turned to some of our infection control specialists—Emily Law, BSN, RN, and Jennifer Richards, BSN, RN.
Is the risk of spreading COVID-19 greater in enclosed spaces?
It is. When a virus is exhaled indoors through sneezes, coughs, talking, and breathing, it tends to stay aloft longer than it does outdoors. We inhale it easily in indoor conditions where the air tends to be still. This is why health-care professionals urge you to avoid prolonged indoor contact with anyone who does not live in the same household.
It’s holiday season. Is there any safe way to have gatherings of friends and family in your home?
The risk of transmission exists in any gathering of people who aren’t strictly isolating. However, there are ways you can reduce that risk.
Most important, stay home if you develop any symptom at all, even one as trivial as a runny nose or headache. Get tested for the virus if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, and stay home until your risk of infection has passed, whether you have any symptoms or not. You can catch and transmit the virus even if you never have symptoms yourself.
The Centers for Disease Control has a lot of good information for the holidays (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html).
To reduce your risk of getting or transmitting the virus indoors, follow these suggestions:
- Handwashing—Wash your hands before, during, and after your gathering. Place hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in prominent places for your guests. Put disposable paper towels in the bathroom, so no one shares a towel.
- Distancing—Select your space and guest list to accommodate the recommended 6 feet of distance. The more time spent together, the greater the risk of exposure, so consider the duration of your gathering.
- Masking—Wear masks unless eating. This goes for children over two years old as well. Make it fun! Wear masks that celebrate the season, a theme, or your favorite team. Please note that the Centers for Disease Control recommends not using a costume mask (such as for Halloween) as a substitute for a cloth mask unless it is made of two or more layers of breathable fabric that covers your mouth and nose and doesn’t leave gaps around your face. Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask because it can be dangerous if the costume mask makes it hard to breathe. Instead, consider using a holiday-themed cloth mask.
- Cleaning—Clean surfaces frequently. Wherever the virus lands, it can ultimately infect you if you touch that spot and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
- Ventilating—Air movement helps dissipate the virus. Indoor spaces have less air flow and may make distancing a challenge. The safest place to socialize is outdoors. Plan a physical activity such as hiking, sledding, or snowshoeing. Gather around a bonfire or in a garage with the doors open. Use space heaters if safe to do so. If you must gather indoors, open your windows and turn on your fans. If you have forced-air heating, run the fan continuously. Replace your HVAC filter as recommended. Use of HEPA filters or air purifiers may be helpful if windows cannot be opened.
What about holiday shopping? Retailers are suffering and will be hoping for some lift from holiday shoppers. What should you do to safely shop at the mall?
First, stay home if you have any symptom or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. Do as much shopping online as you can. Opt for retailers who offer pickup to reduce your time within the store. If you must go inside a store, wear a mask, clean your hands frequently, and allow 6 feet of distance between yourself and other shoppers. Many retailers have started offering assigned hours for high-risk persons. Consider these hours if applicable, and avoid times of peak shopping.
Any other thoughts about how to navigate the coming winter?
Commit to taking care of yourself and your family. Put a schedule in place to actively care for your body, mind, and spirit. Here are a few ideas:
- Exercise. Whether you go for a run on ice-free days or work out in your own home, stay active. Hike up and down your steps and do a few yoga poses. Try some new online workouts. Get the kids involved!
- Eat healthy foods. Go online to find new ways to prepare winter produce such as root vegetables and squashes. Experiment with new recipes for hearty soups. Reserve sweets
for special occasions.
- Stay in touch. Socialize in person using the recommendations above. Reach out to friends and family by phone and video calls. Get creative about what to do during your virtual gatherings. Try sharing a meal, reading a book to a child, or listening to music.