As coronavirus ruins holiday traditions, some local experts offer safe ways to celebrate
by Jenny Peterson | Contributing Writer
It’s been said over and over — the holidays will look a little different this year.
At least, that’s what healthcare professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are hoping will happen to help stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) during the time of year when travel and family gatherings are usually at a peak.
“The safest way is to celebrate with immediate family and people in your household,” said Dr. Sara Wilson, a surgeon at Roper St. Francis Healthcare here in West Ashley.
But that doesn’t mean this year should be unremarkable; with a little creativity and conscious safety habits, you can still safely celebrate — and possibly form some new traditions going forward.
Below are ways to safely celebrate the holidays, according to Dr. Wilson and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP).
“Wearing masks is tied with washing hands as the two most important things you can do,” Dr. Wilson said. “In Charleston, we had a bad spike of cases in July, and once mask ordinances went into place, we saw cases significantly go down. That is the number one thing for your safety and that of everyone else—wear a mask and wear masks properly, over the mouth and nose.”
It’s safe to remove a mask when outside in a wide, open area like a park or at the beach, but it’s important to wear masks inside stores, even if you appear to be the only one inside, Dr. Wilson said.
“In a grocery store, you don’t know who is going to walk through after you, and without a mask, simply breathing can leave your droplets in the air after you walk away; so it’s best, when in an enclosed space, to keep a mask over both nose and mouth,” Dr. Wilson said.
It’s also important to wear a mask, even if you feel perfectly healthy, Dr. Wilson said. Even if you show no symptoms, avoid close contact and stay six feet away from people who are not in your household.
“Transmission through asymptomatic people is how the virus has been so effective at spreading,” Dr. Wilson explained. “Someone may be infected and contagious, but their symptoms haven’t started yet, and there are some people who don’t even have symptoms and have no way of knowing they have COVID-19 unless they get a test.”
TEST BEFORE TRAVEL
The resounding recommendation from healthcare professionals is to celebrate with family members virtually this year. However, if you do decide to travel, consider driving rather than flying or taking public transportation.
Before you make plans, check the COVID-19 infection rates in the areas you are visiting; if the area is spiking, stay home.
Take a COVID-19 test before traveling, Dr. Wilson advises. It’s extremely important to quarantine before the test and after the test where you live while waiting for results to be negative.
“After testing, quarantine again—don’t get tested and then go to a party,” Dr. Wilson said. “A negative test is not a license to go crazy—still wear a mask, wash hands often, and avoid being around other people.”
Roper St. Francis is offering testing in all its Express Care locations, including the location in James Island at 319 Folly Rd. near the intersection of Folly Road and Maybank Highway from 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. every day. Results are usually back in two days.
The CDC advises that travelers should have a plan for if someone in the house where they are staying at becomes ill, including self-quarantining in a specific room and locating local testing sites.
Intimate gatherings of just those in your household can make for a memorable—and cheaper—holiday.
If holding a gathering of friends and family, keep the guest list small enough so that people can remain at least six feet apart at all times. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs—even though it’s tempting.
Celebrating outdoors is one way to keep everyone safe. The CDC recommends that even outdoors, require guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
If celebrating indoors, open windows and turn fans on to keep air circulating.
During meals, provide each person their own serving utensils. Skip the dip and appetizers so hands don’t touch the same surfaces.
Encourage guests to avoid singing, especially indoors. Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard. Last, but certainly not least, provide plenty of soap and hand sanitizer for your guests.
VIRTUAL CELEBRATION IDEAS
There are many ways to celebrate virtually with friends and family through Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and more.
Festive Zoom ideas include dressing up in “ugly Christmas sweaters” or have everyone make the same cocktail or the use the same recipe for cookies and compare on screen
Consider taking your family and friends on a virtual tour of the lights in your neighborhood or bring them along to the James Island County Park, which is hosting a socially-distant Holiday Festival of Lights this year, where attendees remain in their cars the whole time.
Perhaps members of your household can sit on the front porch in the evenings to wave to neighbors and celebrate the holiday spirit at a distance.
You can also watch your loved ones on Zoom opening gifts—it’s a concept called “unboxing” and it has become a million-dollar niche market on YouTube.
EATING AT A RESTAURANT AND HOLIDAY SHOPPING
Outdoor dining at restaurants is considerably safer than eating indoors, Dr. Wilson said.
The CDC expressly states on its website, “Before you go to the restaurant, call and ask if all staff are wearing masks while at work.” If they’re not, don’t go.
Consider online shopping this year to avoid crowds. Many local businesses post photos of items on their social media pages and are happy to take payment over the phone. Curbside pickup has become a widespread option.
Dr. Wilson said it’s all about making conscious, safe choices.
“I understand pandemic fatigue,” Dr Wilson said. “I understand wanting to enjoy the traditions that everyone loves and looks forward to. But you want your loved ones to be here next (holiday), so please take it seriously.”