When patients approach Dr. Frederic Guerrier about their holiday plans, the St. Petersburg family medicine physician advises them on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s not a blanket statement,” said Guerrier, who’s had a local medical practice for 36 years. He helps patients devise a plan for the safest holidays possible, based on factors such as whether they’ve been quarantining and whether the people they will be seeing have also been quarantining.
Friday marks two weeks before Christmas, meaning those who celebrate with people outside their households should start quarantining, and those planning to travel before the holiday should ideally have begun quarantining already, health experts say. This means avoiding contact with people outside your household.
In its holiday celebrations guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has emphasized that the safest thing to do is to stay home and celebrate with the people you live with or to host a virtual gathering. However, for those who do plan to travel or celebrate with those outside their households, there are several precautions that public health experts recommend for a safer holiday season.
CDC guidelines say those who have been practicing social distancing (which means staying at least 6 feet away from others), mask wearing and hand washing pose less of a risk of spreading the infection than those who have not been following these protocols. When preparing for the holidays, Gurrier said people should consider how safe they’ve been and be honest with themselves.
“If you cannot trace where you’ve been, then you shouldn’t be around anyone that might be hurt,” Guerrier said.
Dr. Marissa Levine of USF Health said those traveling during the holidays should undergo an extensive planning process, starting by assessing the health risks to themselves and those they’re visiting.
“That’s the first step,” she said.
Travelers should also make plans for how to social distance during their journeys and minimize their contact with others. The final part of the planning process involves assessing the gathering, Levine said. If gathering indoors, keeping the windows and doors open can reduce the risk, and people should wear masks, keep their distance and wash their hands.
When planning gatherings, people should also limit the duration of the celebration, decrease the number of attendees and stay outdoors if possible, the CDC says. The agency lists extended guidelines for gatherings, overnight visitors, returning college students and travel on its website.
The CDC advises people to consider the levels of COVID-19 both where they live and where they’re visiting. Those planning to travel should also consider whether the people they’re visiting have come into contact with people outside their households in the prior two weeks.
Public health officials are “urging” people not to travel until 14 days after their last possible exposure to COVID-19, said Maggie Hall with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.
Hall is advising people to stay home altogether and limit gatherings to their immediate family.
“It’s still not a good idea,” Hall said. “If you must go, take every precaution and minimize your exposure.”
Hall, who is Cuban, usually celebrates Nochebuena, the Spanish name for Christmas Eve, by attending church and eating with family. But with the pandemic, she’s urging people to reconsider how they observe the holiday. She plans to celebrate through a small meal with immediate family only. Some will eat indoors and others will eat outdoors in order to practice social distancing.
“This year, because of COVID, we’re going to have to change how we celebrate,” she said.
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