With Thanksgiving taking place on Thursday and Christmas not that far behind, many families will be traveling and gathering once again following two years of the pandemic that made such congregations unsafe before COVID-19 vaccines and boosters became more readily available.
Unfortunately, health experts anticipate a COVID-19 surge could again take place this winter, and when coupled with an anticipated severe flu season and a rise in RSV cases, it’s only prudent to take precautions to help ensure your holiday season will be not only joyous, but also safe.
“There’s no doubt that most of us are looking forward to gathering with our loved ones to celebrate the season after two years of health experts cautioning against such gatherings,” said Dr. Daisy Dodd, an infectious disease specialist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “However, it’s prudent to understand that the pandemic is not over, yet, and with flu and RSV cases expected to grow, taking measures to stay safe is in our best interest.”
Health experts agree that the most important thing adults and children can do to protect themselves from COVID-19 infection is to get vaccinated and stay updated on boosters. This is especially true if people plan to travel and gather with others during the holiday season, or if they plan on spending time with others whose vaccination status is unknown.
Also, with an anticipated severe flu season, getting your flu shot will provide important and added protection against influenza, which can cause severe health issues, and could result in death. “Getting a flu shot not only helps keep you healthy, but it also protects those around you who may be at higher risk for flu complications, said Dr. David Bronstein, who also practices at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
Safe celebrating tips
To protect your health and that of your loved ones, health officials encourage you to do your part to stay safe and be vigilant this holiday season. They recommend that you follow these tips to celebrate the holidays safely this year:
- Know you’re healthy before you go. Don’t travel or gather if you are sick or with someone who is sick.
- Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. Gatherings and activities held outdoors are safer than indoor gatherings.
- Continue practicing healthy behaviors. Wear a protective mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands regularly.
- If you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID-19, test yourself. Taking a home antigen test will put your mind at ease and make sure you’re not putting others at risk of catching COVID-19 if you are infected.
Dr. Britany Alexander, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, notes this holiday season may also cause anxiety and depression among those who lost a loved one due to the pandemic, or are facing economic challenges due to rising prices and job uncertainty.
“What that means is that many people may feel sad during this holiday season,” Dr. Alexander noted. “But it’s important to not lose hope, as we have the opportunity to remind ourselves what the holidays are all about. Sometimes, the simplest act can have the greatest impact on another person’s well-being by extending a kind word or a smile. In order to do that, however, we cannot forget to take care of ourselves, especially when it comes to our mental health.”
If you feel down, sad or depressed during the holidays, Dr. Alexander recommends the following:
- Take the time to allow yourself to mourn the loss of your prior expectations.
- You don’t have to set lower expectations – just different ones with a new focus on adapting to your current situation.
- Feeling uneasy is normal, considering all the changes and unknowns that we have faced during the past two years due to the pandemic, as well as current economic challenges.
- We might not be able to give as many presents to our loved ones, like we would normally do, but we can still remind our loved ones how much we care for them and how much they mean to us.
“Do what’s right for you and remember: good mental health is essential for all of us to enjoy life to the fullest despite any challenges we might face,” advised Dr. Alexander.
Dr. Alexander stressed if your depression or anxiety persists, it’s important to seek help from your primary care physician or mental health care provider.