Chip Minemyer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidelines this week for celebrating the holidays – recognizing that many of us are eager to see loved ones from whom we’ve distanced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With case counts surging across the country – and here in our region – caution is required during the holidays, the CDC and local experts said.

Dr. David Csikos, chief medical officer with Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber. is taking his lead from infectious diseases guru Dr. Anthony Fauci – the man who is the face of the battle against the novel coronavirus.

“I just heard Dr. Fauci say his holiday Rx will be ‘a quiet dinner with his wife and drinks, and a after dinner Zoom with his 3 daughters’ who are scattered across the U.S.,” Csikos said.

The Windber doctor and Jill D. Henning, associate professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, are fielding more questions from people eager for clarity on what will be safe from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

The two local experts have helped readers here and across the country and world since spring with their questions about living with a pandemic.

“The holiday season will be especially difficult for all of us,” Csikos told an individual who was hoping to spend Christmas Eve with his children and grandchildren, and who said: “It’s my favorite holiday and I think it’s definitely possible to do it safely.”

Csikos urged the individual to take precautions – such as frequent hand-washing and mask-wearing – even if people have tested negative before the planned get-together.

“We need to remind ourselves that we can make a difference,” Csikos said. “The ultimate decision is yours. I’m sure your children and grandchildren will respect and understand your decision.”

Henning handled a question from a professional photographer concerned about interacting with a family member who had experienced possible exposure to the virus through his work as a teacher.

Would it be safe to photograph the wife and son if the husband is asymptomatic and if they remain at least six feet apart?

After reminding that the husband should quarantine away from his family for

14 days, Henning was blunt: “I would not photograph the family. We quarantine to stop the spread of the virus.”

Tough love and self-discipline may be the greatest gifts we can offer our families this holiday season.

The CDC said on its website: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and isolating for many people. Gatherings during the upcoming holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. This holiday season, consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families and communities healthy and safe.

“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.”

The CDC suggests:

• Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household “who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19,”: adding: “In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, pose varying levels of risk.”

• If hosting a holiday gathering, limit the number of guests and provide space for social distancing. Require guests to wear masks – except when eating and drinking – and suggest they avoid direct contact such as hugs and handshakes. If weather permits, hold the event outside.

• Provide hand sanitizer

easily accessible for your guests. Avoid sharing serving utensils.

The CDC urges people in these situations to avoid in-person holiday events:

• Individuals with or exposed to COVID-19, including those waiting for test results.

• Those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at increased risk for severe illness.

• Older adults with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart conditions, pregnancy, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes.

And with Thanksgiving approaching, here are some CDC thoughts to chew on:

• A small dinner with only members of your household is the safest option.

• You might consider having a virtual dinner with friends and extended family.

The CDC supports preparing meals for neighbors who are at high risk for illness from COVID-19, and delivering the food – without contact and if you have not been exposed.

Highest risk for exposure would be at crowded shopping areas, parades or sporting events, the CDC said. 

Heed warnings about travel and overnight stays.

The ongoing standards of remaining six feet apart and limiting face-to-face encounters to no more than 15 minutes still apply.

Csikos handled one particularly emotional plea from a grandmother longing to spend Christmas with her 10-year-old granddaughter, who didn’t understand why her grandparents weren’t able to be with her as they had in the past.

The grandmother noted that she and her husband are high-risk for COVID-19 complications, and have been holding regular Zoom meetings with the girl.

“My granddaughter and I were joined at the hip pretty much from the time she was born,” the woman wrote. “She is my heart. Now my heart is sad and broken ... Is there any safe way to do Christmas? She always spent Christmas Eve at our house.”

Csikos responded: “You’ve already discussed your situation with your physician. The ultimate decision is yours. ... I truly believe your granddaughter who is 10 years old will understand if the situation is correctly explained. You’re fortunate that your granddaughter lives close by.”

Merry Christmas, folks. Please stay safe.

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat and TribDem.com, and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.

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