After a challenging year, many people are excited to celebrate the holiday season with friends and family. However, COVID‑19 is still spreading, and it's important to continue to take precautions to stay healthy.
Getting vaccinated is the best defense against COVID‑19. "The safest way to celebrate the holidays is for everyone who is eligible to get fully vaccinated," says Carla Garcia Carreno, M.D., Infectious Disease Specialist at Children's Health℠.
Still, parents may wonder what holiday activities are best for their families – especially as children under 5 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. Here are a few tips to navigate the holidays safely this year.
1. Know your family's risk
When planning a holiday gathering or activity, consider if anyone in your family has risk factor for becoming seriously ill from COVID‑19. This may include people over the age of 65 and people with conditions like obesity, heart disease or diabetes. You should also consider if anyone has not been fully vaccinated against COVID‑19.
If anyone is at high risk for severe COVID‑19 or has not yet been fully vaccinated, it's very important you take precautions to keep them healthy. You can protect those who are too young to be vaccinated by making sure that you and everyone else around them is vaccinated. You can also skip holiday gatherings and activities where there is high risk for COVID‑19 spread and choose safer options instead.
2. Choose safer holiday gatherings and festivities
COVID‑19 vaccines mean that we have more options for safe holiday celebrations than we did last year. If you are considering a holiday event for your family, think about what safety precautions are in place to prevent the spread of COVID‑19.
For instance, getting together with a group of people who are fully vaccinated has much less risk than attending a gathering with non-vaccinated individuals or being in a large group where you don't know the vaccination status of others.
Generally, gathering outdoors is safer than indoors, and it's best to avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. If attending an indoor public event, check to see if masks will be required.
If anyone is feeling ill, don't host or attend a gathering. If anyone is diagnosed with COVID‑19 following the gathering, they should notify everyone who was at the event so they can monitor themselves for symptoms and get tested, if needed.
It's helpful to set expectations prior to any gatherings. "Make a plan ahead of time," suggests Brittany Gresl, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Children's Health and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern. "Not everyone may be on the same page about how to respond to COVID‑19, so focus on making a plan in advance that you and your family are comfortable with."
3. If you do travel, plan carefully
This year, it may be best to stay close to home as traveling adds an additional risk of spreading COVID‑19, especially for those who are not vaccinated. If you do plan to travel this holiday season, the CDC has travel guidelines to help you make the best decision for your family. Plan ahead and take precautions to limit exposure during travel. See more advice for traveling during COVID‑19.
4. Take steps to prevent illness
However you celebrate the holidays, continue taking everyday precautions to prevent the spread of COVID‑19 and other illnesses, such as:
- Getting vaccinated, if eligible
- Staying home if you are sick
- Washing your hands frequently
- Avoiding holiday crowds
- Wearing a mask in public as recommended
- Anyone ages 2 and older who is not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor places
- In addition, people who are fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks when in public indoor places in areas of substantial or high transmission, or if they have a weakened immune system
The best way to protect those who are too young to be vaccinated is by making sure you and others around them are vaccinated. You should get a COVID‑19 booster shot when you're eligible as well. Additionally, make sure everyone in your family over the age of 6 months gets a flu shot this year to help avoid getting sick.
5. Plan ahead for medical care
Ahead of the holidays, ask your primary care physician about any office closures and have a plan of who to contact if someone in your family gets sick. For instance, the pediatrician office may be closed for the holiday but might have a nurse line you can call if needed or a recommendation for a virtual visit. It's also helpful to know what to do if you or child is exposed to COVID‑19 and where you can get a COVID‑19 test.
6. Make your holidays bright
For many families, it may be upsetting or disappointing that we're facing yet another holiday season marked by the uncertainty of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Dr. Gresl encourages families to focus on what they can do to find meaning and care for each other this holiday season.
This may mean finding fun and safe ways to experience the holidays together, or it may mean doing less in order to relax after a stressful year. You may also consider ways to care for others in your community, such as deciding to adopt a family or support a favorite charity.
The COVID‑19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, including kids and teens. Dr. Gresl encourages parents to create a safe environment for expressing feelings. Check in with your child and validate their emotions to make sure they feel heard.
Remember that how you respond to the holiday season can also affect your child's response. "As a parent, children look to you for reference for how to cope with challenges," says Dr. Gresl.
Make an effort to model appropriate self-care. After all, in order to take care of your kids, you've got to take care of yourself, too. Carving out just 10 minutes a day to take some deep breaths, do something you enjoy or relax in a quiet space can be a game-changer for your own mental health during the holidays.
Lastly, remember you're not alone if you feel stressed or sad this holiday season. "This has been a challenging year," says Dr. Gresl. “If you or your child are struggling, seek professional help."
Rather than focus on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do to celebrate safely. See more tips from @Childrens for a happy & healthy holiday season during #COVID19.
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID‑19 hub.
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