Before the COVID-19 cases increased in the summer, Leslie and her husband David * planned to visit his family on the west coast for Thanksgiving. Now that the United States was experiencing a third wave of infections, they decided not to take the trip, even though it has been over a year since they saw his parents.
“I think it’s the right call, but it’s just heartbreaking,” said Leslie from her New York upstate home. “We want to think about the general good of society and recommend staying at home. We want to follow that.”
As we step into the holiday season, it’s safe to say that many families are grappling with partying during the pandemic.
“It is a positive step to acknowledge that the holidays will not be the same this year and to work with that acceptance,” wrote Lisa Gardner, a Vermont-based therapist who started a group during the COVID-19 pandemic, to connect important employees with advisory services in one email. “I would like to encourage people to indulge themselves in this little or big time.”
When deciding whether to attend a celebration, people should first consider their COVID-19 risk factors, which include age, pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease and asthma, and immunodeficiency, said Dr. Ravina Kullar, Infectious Disease Specialist and Epidemiologist and Spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“When the family is around and you know their COVID practices are strict (wear face masks, physically distance yourself from those who are away from their household, avoid mass gatherings), it’s okay to celebrate Thanksgiving with them “Kullar wrote, noting that it does. It is important to consider the rate of community expansion before deciding where to host a gathering.
Kullar also recommends holding the event outdoors. If the weather doesn’t allow it, keep the guest list short. In the two weeks leading up to the celebration, limit trips and take maximum precautions if you need to go out. Get a PCR COVID-19 test within a week of the meeting.
“After all, everyone who attends the Thanksgiving event must commit to following COVID practices carefully,” advised Kullar. She also notes that “50% of people can be presymptomatic and therefore the PCR test would not go up [the virus, making it important] that everyone should monitor their signs and symptoms leading up to Thanksgiving and beyond. “
Regardless of whether you are flying or driving, you need to take precautions. When it comes to flying, Kullar suggests using an airline that requires masks, center seats are empty, and flight capacity is 50%. Use a disinfectant and wipe common surfaces such as the seat, seat belt, armrests, and TV.
“When you go on a road trip, the main risks are the stops along the way, like restaurants or public toilets or gas stations,” wrote Kullar. “The main risk with toilets comes from those that are small, busy and poorly ventilated – like the toilets in a gas station on the highway where the toilet is outside.”
Wear gloves when filling the gas tank. Pack groceries so you don’t have to stop at restaurants. And instead of staying with relatives, consider renting a hotel room or other accommodation to minimize exposure to family members.
Set boundaries and practice self-care
The holidays can be full of emotion in a good year, but the pandemic has added stress.
“During this time, not all family members will agree with your sense of security,” said Gardner.
This can mean avoiding visiting family members who have other security measures, which can lead to anger and resentment.
“While some family members may hold grudges, anger can pass,” Gardner wrote, adding that COVID-19 can have long-term health effects.
“We all grew up with the idea that the holidays were ‘the happiest time of the year’!” Wrote Gardner. “For many of us, this is just not true – when you’ve lost loved ones, are alone, are experiencing financial stress, feel overwhelmed by the flood of advertising, etc. this can be the most stressful time of the year.”
It is important to take care of yourself. Stick to a routine, recognize your unhealthy coping mechanisms, and develop a plan to reduce or avoid them.
“For some, it will help to keep Thanksgiving on like most other days except for calling relatives,” wrote Gardner. “For others, it can be important to plan something special for the day.”
Take a walk, cook a special meal, or do something creative. Leslie said she and David plan to lay deep and have a stress-free day.
“We’re just making the most of being home and enjoying not having any real commitments at this point,” said Leslie. “It’s good for the soul.”
Create new traditions
Just because family members are physically separated doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy time together, even if that time is virtual.
Consider setting up a video call with family members so they can keep dining or other activities together, Gardner suggests. She and her family enjoyed playing virtual games together. Your household has also experimented with cooking new and experimental dishes.
“I suspect that if we allow ourselves to be open about it, this Christmas season may come with some surprises,” wrote Gardner. “Yes, it will be different – it can be sad, it can be disappointing – and it can also bring new joys that we did not expect.”
* Leslie and David asked us to use their middle name to protect their privacy.