Celebrating the holidays during a pandemic
With the holiday season upon us and coronavirus cases rise across the country, we know people are increasingly anxious about potential celebrations. At Grand Rounds, we help people sort through the constantly changing guidance to help them minimize their risks, and understand how their employer-sponsored health benefits might help.
Dr. Tista Ghosh, our senior medical director and epidemiologist, has spoken extensively on the importance of finding ways to celebrate the holidays for mental health reasons.
Check out her Halloween interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN’s podcast Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.
With the vaccine rollout already commencing in the U.S., there is now a feeling of a light at the end of the tunnel. But that light should not be misinterpreted as the end of the tunnel — we still have a long ways to go before the entire country will be inoculated and must thus take the appropriate steps to mitigate risk.
Dr. Ghosh herself has needed to have tough conversations herself with family and friends as all of us are feeling the fatigue of social distancing and virtual-everything.
NPR’s All Things Considered asked her to share tips on how to have these discussions — you can listen and read more on NPR.
We sat down with Dr. Ghosh to remind us why it is important to find safe ways to celebrate the holidays.
What types of mental health concerns has the Grand Rounds care team encountered during the pandemic and how is it playing out this holiday season?
Most of the member interactions we take reflect some mental health concern. Whether it is Zoom-fatigue or coping with the loss of normalcy or the loss of life, recent national surveys suggest levels of anxiety and depression are up 3 to 4 times pre-pandemic levels.
Taking away the holidays could further exacerbate this. People need something to look forward to, something to keep them going, during difficult times.
How can we celebrate safely?
First and foremost, it is important to keep up with scientific guidance, which is constantly evolving as we learn more about the virus. The current evidence continues to show us that transmission risks increase when there is more virus circulating in the community and when masks are not worn and/or the interaction occurs in an indoor, poorly ventilated setting. The new CDC guidelines have also shown us that even brief face to face contact over time can increase the risk of transmission.
I can’t emphasize this enough: we must take a layered approach by wearing a mask, creating social distance, increasing ventilation, and practicing hand hygiene together.
By using these principles, you can help decrease transmission risk and avoid turning your holiday party into the next superspreader event. But we must remain vigilant as we head into the cold winter months and flu season.
What are your tips for celebrating indoors?
For folks who live in places where it will be too cold to be outside, or outdoor space is limited, opening windows to improve ventilation will be crucial. If that’s not possible, consider sticking with a zoom or household members-only celebration. Partially outdoor spaces could also open up more options; host a holiday movie or happy hour in your garage with the door open and an outdoor space heater. If outdoor space is limited and you live in an apartment complex, have an ugly holiday sweater contest by standing on balconies at a pre-designated time, or meet at a park for an outdoor snowman-building contest.
I bet you’ve heard of a lot of really creative ideas for how to celebrate and have fun in a COVID-safe way. Can you share?
Yes! It’s always great to hear and see people having as much fun as possible, in a safe way, during this public health crisis. Below are some ideas but there is one point I want to drive home: there are ways to interact and celebrate, while at the same time, reducing risk. With the next wave of the pandemic upon us, we all need something to look forward to.
- Holiday-themed, outdoor snow shoe, hiking or ice skating meetups (with masks and distancing)
- Host a virtual caroling contest
- Garage holiday hangouts: open your garage door, use outdoor-approved heaters, set up seats 6 feet apart, hand-out holiday themed masks, and enjoy a holiday toast together
- Outdoor “tailgate” parties -hang out in your own cars, with the windows down, bring your own food and drink, play holiday music.
- Parking lot holiday concerts – live music can really lift spirits. So consider having people stay in their own cars to hear some live music. Safest options would be instrumental, without singing, but a live band 20+ feet away outdoors could be considered as well.
- Outdoor scavenger hunt for gifts
- No-contact secret Santa or cookie exchange (drop off gifts or cookies at their doorstep, have everyone open them together on zoom)
- Outdoor holiday movie night (in your open garage or porch or balcony, with heaters)
- Tent parties: pull out that camping gear and that tent heater for a few hours on your lawn. Decorate it with lights and put out individual goodie bags filled with festive treats. Have a few friends drop by, or space friends out by household over the course of a few hours – to stop by for some holiday cheer.
- Roast chestnut or s’mores over that backyard fire pit with a few friends
- Eat with friends and family via zoom and then meet for a post-meal holiday walk
- Holiday dog walk: meet up with your favorite furry friends, dressed in their holiday best, for a festive outdoor walk in a nearby park
- For apartment dwellers, consider having friends in the complex all coming out to their balconies at the same time to ring bells or listen to holiday music, or do a holiday toast. Or meet outside on your complex’s property, for an outdoor gift exchange. Or have a band come play in your apartment common space with residents listening from their balconies at a distance.
If you are a member and would like to connect with your care team about your COVID-19 concerns, please call us at 1-800-929-0926 or message us via the web portal or our app.