It’s hard to believe, but the holiday season is upon us. In any other year, we’d be readying holiday plans for parties and get-togethers with family and friends, but this year is different. Months into the coronavirus pandemic and with cases surging, we all need to redouble our infection-control actions to avoid infecting ourselves or others. For those living with a chronic illness, such as pulmonary fibrosis (PF), these critical precautions have always been a form of survival. As the holidays approach, we must be extra vigilant as we are not only fending off coronavirus but also the impact of the cold and flu season.
As a Senior Medical Advisor for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF), I work closely with PF patients and their families, who have been very cautious about avoiding exposure to Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because of the risk of severe or critical illness. PF is a progressive, incurable disease resulting in scarring of the lungs and impaired quality of life. The more than 200,000 Americans who are living with this lung disease are susceptible to lung infections, which can often lead to hospitalization.
This warrants continued caution, and our celebrations will likely look a little different this year so that we can all stay safe. With creativity and diligence, we can protect ourselves and loved ones by wearing a mask or face covering except when eating or drinking, hosting small gatherings with only immediate household members, and washing our hands frequently.
The CDC has some holiday-specific guidelines with suggestions on how to apply safety principles to different situations.
Normally, Thanksgiving is the busiest time of the year for travel in the U.S., but travel presents a significant risk of COVID-19 exposure. Do not travel during the holidays if at all possible. If you are hosting someone who has traveled, make sure they follow risk reduction strategies, such as mask wearing, frequent hand washing and physical distancing while in an airport, on a plane or if stopped for breaks during car travel. See more here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-during-covid19.html.
The safest option is to celebrate with members of your own household only. If you choose to gather with others this Thanksgiving, plan to incorporate strategies to reduce exposure risk as much as possible and talk to your guests ahead of time so that all can adhere to the plan. Keep the number of households involved to a minimum and the time together shorter than you might otherwise. Have everyone wear masks (over the nose and mouth) when not eating. Rather than buffet-style, serve plated meals at the Thanksgiving dinner table, outdoors if weather permits. Spread out when watching those post-feast football games and get your Black Friday shopping deals online instead of in-store.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve pose similar risks with gatherings of families and friends and shared meals, and similar risk reduction strategies should be employed. In addition, outdoor gatherings are less feasible as the weather gets colder, so avoid crowding into smaller spaces and open windows or doors a bit to increase air circulation if weather permits.
Virtual parties on a video platform can allow friends and family to connect and celebrate without being physically together. In the past several months, my own family has had virtual baby showers, play dates and birthday parties with loved ones across the country.
With the hope of effective vaccines to bring about the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know scaled-down or virtual holiday celebrations won’t be a permanent change. We’ve all sacrificed a lot for health and safety this year, but with creativity and planning we can still find ways to be merry, joyful and safe in the coming holiday season!
To learn more about pulmonary fibrosis, please visit www.AboutPF.org.