Updated: Jan 15
With the upcoming increase in travel, holiday gatherings, and indoor events, it is projected that there will be a huge surge in covid-19 cases. People have chosen to socialize safely outdoors in previous months, and although this was a reasonable option in the summer and spring seasons, it will not be an effective solution in the approaching winter months. Fall and Winter are seasons that emanate warm and cozy feelings. It’s a time when people gravitate towards their families and curl up by the fireplace. The problem with this holiday season is that respiratory viruses spread the most in warm indoor conditions. People who are crowded together in a dry and heated environment are at a much higher risk of being infected by covid-19. The winter months are already causing people to stay indoors, and people across the world are preparing as flu season draws near.
Public health officials have said that the recent national spike in infections is predominantly due to household transmissions. Although superspreader events are a part of the problem the surge of cases cannot be solely blamed on those events. The spread of covid-19 during the holiday season will largely be driven by the individual choices people make in regards to travel and large family gatherings. Scientists are not suggesting that people should call off their holiday celebrations, but instead focus on alternative ways to make this holiday season fun and safe.
To allow for a more secure and cautious approach this time of year, it is important to estimate the vulnerabilities of friends and relatives. Focus on their age, underlying health conditions, and exposure in their community and occupation. Ideally, families that have large gatherings can try to keep the air in the enclosed room as clean as possible. Air filters or opening windows and doors throughout the house help to regulate aerosol transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention redefined “close contact” to 15 minutes of cumulative exposure within six feet in a 24 hour period. Continuing to socially distance in large crowds is essential while also remembering to wash your hands periodically. Limiting the size of a gathering and wearing masks will help to provide a safer atmosphere during an event. People who decide to adjust their traditional holiday plan are reducing the risk of infection and helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Another huge impact of Covid-19 are the mental health risks that arise from spending the holidays alone. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, up to 64 percent of people who deal with mental illness get worse during this time of year. Thanksgiving and Christmas are supposed to bring cheer and joy into the lives of people all over the world, but they can often have the opposite effect. With the added stress of celebrating during a pandemic, there is a concern that many individuals will feel a spike in anxiety or depression without their families. There are many psychological benefits of being surrounded by family and friends during these troubled times. It is up to every family to weigh the risks of exposure to covid-19 and make a decision accordingly. For some, the mental health risks of not seeing their family may outweigh the risk of infection.
This holiday season will certainly look different from the typical celebrations and gatherings of the past. The covid-19 pandemic is not going anywhere, but that does not mean people have to cancel their holiday plans. As cases rise across the nation people need to be conscious of the choices they make this time of year. There are plenty of alternative ways to spend quality time with friends and family. Having an ugly sweater party over Zoom or helping a homeless shelter with a Thanksgiving meal are a couple of ways to enjoy these festive times. As the holiday season approaches, put effort into spreading cheer, not the coronavirus.