Laura Burke head shotCOVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country. As the holiday season quickly approaches, epidemiologist and dean of Regis College’s School of Health Sciences Laura Burke cautions against large-scale parties and gatherings and offers some recommendations for celebrating the holidays safely.

Are There any new Public Health Recommendations or Guidelines for Winter to help curb the Spread of COVID-19?

The guidelines for protecting yourself during the winter months are similar to those from the spring and summer – wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands – with a few additions.

As it becomes colder in New England, more and more activities move indoors. In order to reduce the spread of the virus, it is recommended that doors and windows remain open when you must be indoors with others. Wear a mask indoors, even in your own home, if you are unsure other people’s virus status.

In addition, it is recommended that both adults and children six months and older be fully vaccinated against influenza (please check with your healthcare provider before getting the flu vaccine). The fewer the number of cases of influenza, the less likely that hospitals will be overwhelmed with sick patients this winter.

As the Holiday Season Approaches, what is your Recommendation for how to Celebrate in a safe Manner?

Most people are desperate to see family and friends. The current public health recommendation is to minimize travel and interactions with large groups of people. Celebrating the holidays virtually or with members of your household are the safest. This is the year to keep Thanksgiving small and limit it to immediate family. If you feel the need to celebrate the holidays with others, please consider the following:

  • What are the community levels of COVID-19?
  • Is the gathering inside or outside?
  • How many people will be in the house at one time?
  • Where are the other guests coming from?
  • Have the other guests been adhering to social distancing guidelines, mask wearing, and hand washing?
  • Are you or your guests at higher risk for disease?

What About Traveling for the Holidays?

This year, the best way to protect yourself and others is to stay home. Each state has its own travel restrictions and recommendations. You can review the Massachusetts travel guidelines online.

By Car

Traveling by car appears to be the best way to avoid COVID-19 exposure, unless you need to stay in hotels along the way. If you are driving someplace for the holidays, it is recommended that you pack meals for the car ride, so as to avoid stopping. If you do have to stop to use restrooms or to get gas, wear your mask, social distance, and wash your hands.

By Air

A recent study by United Airlines and the Department of Defense showed an overall low exposure risk from aerosolized pathogens like COVID-19 on an airplane if everyone wears a mask. This study did not examine the risk posed by the larger droplets that occur when people eat (and take off masks) or talk. Not considered in this study is the risk associated with getting to the airport, going through security or waiting to board the plane.