Even during these uncertain times, there are still plenty of reasons to rejoice and look forward to the approaching holiday season.

Like my fellow colleagues at The Wright Center, I cherish the joy and generosity of spirit that exemplify upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But, as a medical professional, I am all too aware that this will be a season like no other, given the continuing risks associated with COVID-19.

So, we must strive to enjoy ourselves, while also remaining vigilant about staying safe and maintaining the evidence-based health practices that have helped us slow the spread of the virus, including mask wearing, social distancing and regular hand washing. And, we need to receive our annual flu vaccination in an effort to prevent local health care centers from being overwhelmed.

No doubt, these health practices will prove challenging during a time when get-togethers and shopping excursions are the norm. But, they can coexist, as a recent holiday season tip sheet compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes clear.

Gatherings

When it comes to holiday gatherings, the CDC notes that virtual celebrations will likely prove a safe and popular option for many people, just as they have been since the start of the pandemic. Of course, some may find this approach wanting, given these events lack the interpersonal connections that we crave so much during the holidays.

As we all know by now, outdoor gatherings are by far more optimal than indoor when it comes to mitigating the spread

of COVID. The region’s plummeting

temperatures might make some hesitant to go with this option, but plenty of people enjoy a festive outdoor celebration, particularly if it also involves layered clothing, a roaring fire and a hot beverage, which if alcoholic should be consumed in moderation.

For indoor gatherings, it is obviously safest to keep the festivities limited to close family and friends, and capped at 25 people. Those indoor spaces should at the very least be well-ventilated — keep windows cracked when possible — and spacious enough for guests to spread out and maintain social distancing. The CDC also smartly advises hosts to ask guests to bring their own masks, hand sanitizer and tissues.

Shopping

While shopping is a deeply ingrained rite of the holiday season, this season we need to be careful about when and where we do it. The teeming crowds that define days like Black Friday are now a public health risk, so we should heed the CDC’s advice to get an earlier start on our holiday shopping. And, because it’s the safest option, we should consider doing at least some of our shopping online, while still doing our best to support locally owned brick-and-mortar businesses.

Travel

Months into the pandemic, air travel remains a risk, as does travel of any kind, given the threat of spreading the virus. So, staying close to home is the best option, but if you are considering venturing out of Northeast Pennsylvania to visit loved ones, be sure to check the virus’ prevalence in that area.

I realize it has been a very challenging and difficult year and that we could all use the warmth and good cheer of the holiday season to collectively lift our spirits. Rest assured, we can have all of that, if we just stay smart and stay safe.

Jignesh Y. Sheth, M.D., a primary care physician dually board-certified in internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as Chief Medical Officer and serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. He sees patients at the Wright Center’s Jermyn practice and lives with his family in Clarks Summit. Send your medical questions to news@thewrightcenter.org.

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