Having all the chairs filled for Christmas dinner this year could mean some empty spaces next year. As Americans celebrate the season Friday, we must work to balance a desire to gather with loved ones against a desire to keep those loved ones healthy amid a lingering coronavirus pandemic.
“The next few weeks are critical,” Gov. Jay Inslee told The Columbian’s Editorial Board on Monday. “We were very responsible over the Thanksgiving holidays. But we have another holiday season coming up, and we need to be supremely protective of each other and not gather indoors.”
Inslee and public health officials recommend that gatherings be limited to people who share a household.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website states: “As cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to increase across the United States, the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is to celebrate at home with people who live with you. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”
In Clark County, almost 12,000 confirmed COVID cases had been reported as of Tuesday, and 135 deaths had been attributed to the disease. Statewide, more than 200,000 coronavirus cases and 2,800 deaths had been counted.
All of that makes for a most unusual Christmas season. Traditional public gatherings for tree lightings and parades and parties have been canceled, leaving us grasping for some sense of normalcy in an abnormal year. While there is a desire to find that normalcy in the comfort of friends and family, caution is necessary to stem the spread of the virus and allow for normalcy to return next year.
Along those lines, Clark County Public Health offers some recommendations for people who do choose to gather:
• Self-quarantine. All attendees should quarantine for 14 days prior to the gathering, or quarantine for seven days and have a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of the gathering.
• Keep the guest list small. Gathering with fewer people from one other household is safer than gathering with more people from several households.
• Gather outside, if possible. Indoor gatherings are higher risk than outdoor gatherings.
• If you gather indoors, open windows and doors to increase ventilation. Gather in a location that allows people from different households to maintain 6 feet of distance from each other.
• Wear face coverings any time you’re not eating.
• Keep the gathering short. Longer gatherings are higher risk than shorter gatherings.
• Wash hands frequently.
• Avoid buffet-style potlucks and sharing of utensils. Instead, have each household bring their own food and drinks.
• Avoid gestures that require close contact with others, such as hugging or shaking hands.
• After the gathering, stay home as much as possible for 14 days. If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, contact your health care provider to request testing.
As Inslee’s wife, Trudi, stressed in a televised message prior to Thanksgiving: “Every social gathering is just one more brick in a wall of infection.”
Following the guidelines can be difficult, but the benefits can be grand. The Christmas wish for all this year should be to remain healthy and to help ensure that your loved ones can joyfully gather in the future. Following the advice of health care professionals is important for making that wish come to fruition.