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Tips for Safer Gatherings

As Senior Vice President of Quality and Chief Medical Officer for WakeMed. I’ve led an incredible team for the past several months in navigating many of WakeMed’s COVID-19 safety efforts.

Based on my experience with this pandemic, I want to offer you and your family the following advice for safer gatherings during this holiday season.

We know a lot more about COVID-19 than we did just six months ago in terms of both transmission and treatment. For most people who don’t fall into the highest risk categories, we can follow simple, evidence-based precautions that will allow us to visit with one another and celebrate in a safe way.

Here are a few suggestions:

Talk About COVID.

Before getting together, be sure everyone who is planning to attend is on the same page about everything. Whether your family decides to wear masks, social distance, gather outdoors, limit the number of guests, etc. – have these discussions before any gathering and make sure everyone understands the plan and agrees. This will help eliminate any confusion or frustration during what should be a festive time for everyone.

Keep It Clean.

Deep cleaning before and after any gathering is recommended. Antibacterial products, alcohol-based cleaners and bleach can all kill coronaviruses. On the day of the gathering, have plenty of hand sanitizer and places for people to wash their hands thoroughly – and don’t hesitate to gently remind people to do so throughout the festivities. If you have extra masks, offer them to anyone who shows up without one.

Man using plenty of hand sanitizer gel to help prevent the Covid-19 infection

Understand the Guidelines.

Knowledge is power. The CDC defines “close contact” for COVID-19 as being within six feet for 15 minutes or more without a mask. While no one expects a family member to have COVID-19, asymptomatic cases are always possible. Even if someone does fall ill after the event, if everyone keeps their mask on, respects social distancing and keeps visits short, the risk of transmitting of COVID-19 can be significantly decreased.

Ventilation is Key.

Gathering outdoors is always preferable, but in December this obviously isn’t always ideal. Increasing air exchange by increasing ventilation (e.g., keeping windows open) is recommended especially at times when wearing a mask isn’t possible (e.g., during a meal).

Spread Out.

When possible, spread chairs and/or tables so they’re six feet apart. If space is limited, you may want to consider staggering visits. At the dinner table, leave an extra space in between chairs. When this isn’t possible, try to sit with or beside those within your household to stay in your “bubble.” Keep those at higher risk further away from the crowd and in areas with the best ventilation.

Serve Safely.

Rather than serving holiday meals family style, ask the host to dish up each attendee’s plate while wearing a mask. To prevent accidental cup sharing, use plastic cups with names or serve prepackaged drinks and label them (e.g., bottled water, sodas, juice boxes, etc.)

Children chatting by videoconference on the road trip, respecting social distance

Get Creative.

Loved ones will go a long way to see each other safely. Remember that it’s not about the where, but the who, and the 2020 holiday season will require lots of creativity to celebrate safely. Space heaters and card tables in an open garage could make for a holiday dinner to remember. Or, consider a picnic table shelter at a park for a gift exchange.

Learn More

Find more heart healthy content in the Fall 2020 issue of Heart to Heart Magazine.