Planning for the Holidays During a Pandemic – Again!
As we approach yet another holiday season impacted by COVID-19, thankfully the situation has improved with respect to more individuals eligible for booster shots in addition to their first two vaccine doses. Last year, Public Health’s advice leading up to the holidays was very straightforward. As cases soared and without vaccines available, celebrating outside of your household brought significant risk and generally violated indoor gathering limits. Now, with all adults and children over five eligible for at least one dose, recommendations have changed. However, the emerging Omicron variant has arrived just in time to create more unknowns, leaving people concerned about how and what to plan for the holidays.
After more pandemic fatigue than we ever thought possible, we are all ready to reconnect with family and friends and get back to the traditions we know and love. Everyone will need to decide for themselves what they feel comfortable with, but here are some guidelines to reduce your risk and help you celebrate safely.
- Get vaccinated. The single most effective way to protect yourself and the people around you continues to be through vaccination. If you or other household members aren’t fully vaccinated, there is time to be at least partially protected before the holidays. Vaccines significantly reduce the risk of severe symptoms and protect young children as well as elderly or ill loved ones. And now, they are more important than ever with new variants of concern. If you’re over the age of 50, have certain health conditions, or are at an increased risk of infection because of where you live or work, getting a third-dose booster is a great way to strengthen your immunity prior to the holidays.
- Communicate clearly. Before making any plans to get together with others, have an open conversation about everyone’s vaccination status and the precautions you want to take. These discussions can be difficult, but having them early will help to reduce conflict, keep things joyful and allow for safe celebrations. Everyone’s comfort level is different, but by saying, ‘I’m fully vaccinated so I’d prefer to visit outside,’ or ‘We plan on wearing masks and keeping our distance indoors,’ you will make your boundaries clear from the get-go. Also remind guests that they should screen for symptoms of illness and stay home if they are sick.
- Follow guidelines. At least for now, experts agree that if you and your entire family are vaccinated, you can enjoy the holidays indoors in groups of 10 or less without any significant risk. Families with young, unvaccinated children, or other loved ones who are susceptible to complications, should try to avoid travel and only gather with vaccinated guests. Many people are planning to get tested before and after events, even when fully-vaccinated. Other efforts like staying outside, making sure spaces are well-ventilated, physical distancing, diligent hand washing and mask wearing are all good ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 this holiday season. If you are travelling to see loved ones, the Omicron variant has created new screening measures, quarantine rules and travel restrictions that are changing quickly, sometimes without notice. Be sure to consider these circumstances before finalizing your plans.
- Find alternate ways to celebrate. We all thought that after a successful vaccine rollout and a full year of effort, holiday celebrations this year would finally be like the ones we’re used to. Unfortunately with rising cases and unknowns around the new variant, there is still a risk to the season. If you aren’t comfortable with gathering or travel isn’t possible, consider hosting a virtual event, organize an outdoor hike to replace a large family dinner or find ways to honour traditions from a distance. If you can’t celebrate with friends and family in-person, reach out to isolated members of your community, bake cookies, decorate your home, watch your favourite holiday movies and try your best to feel festive, despite the disappointing circumstances.
As we approach almost two years since the start of the pandemic, complete isolation isn’t possible or beneficial to one’s mental health for most of us, but we also can’t ignore precautions or be reckless. Focus on your own specific situation, do whatever you can to keep everyone safe and make decisions that feel right for you and your family. We should know more about the Omicron variant over the next few weeks, and updated guidelines will follow. Although we said this last year, being smart and safe again this holiday season will allow us to celebrate and make memories with the people that we love for many years to come.