Staying Safe And Healthy During Large Gatherings Of Friends And Family

We’re in what some call the season of giving, since a lot of the winter holidays have gift-giving as a focus. Christmas is the most prominent example, where giving and receiving has become something of an obligation for all ages, whether it’s person to person or crediting Santa as the holly jolly middleman.

It’s certainly a good feeling to pick out something special for someone and have them give something thoughtful in return.

Unfortunately, some of the giving that takes place this time of year isn’t as enjoyable and could be the result of poor hygiene. It’s almost too easy for people to accidentally exchange colds, the flu, or other communicable diseases.

There’s always a risk of passing these along throughout the year, but the winter holidays seem particularly notorious for it. People are inside for longer periods of time, friends and family often gather in more dense arrangements, such as around a big dinner table or a living room. Getting together with loved ones can have a downside too, since it makes it easy for germs to spread.

Besides various family get-togethers, this time of year might mean more social opportunities and invites to parties in the community or neighborhood, all of which can bring people together.

And, although most COVID precautions and restrictions have been loosened from where they were a few years ago, the virus is still moving around. And because most people are no longer taking as many steps to protect themselves or others, there are even more opportunities to be exposed to it, especially through poor hygiene.

Even the ‘getting there’ part of a holiday journey can mean potential exposure. This could be everything from a busy airport or packed airplane to unsanitary convenience stores that you might stop at during a road trip to and from your destination.

Don’t forget that seniors and those who are medically vulnerable are even more at risk of getting sick around the holidays.

Tips to be careful

With all of these potential risks to one’s health, some might even consider staying home and having Christmas or other holidays in summer.

This isn’t a bad idea for starters, since a summertime holiday adventure and celebration, can be warmer, easier to travel and longer hours for daylight.

But if you or your family still does their December celebrating in December, here are some options to help stay healthy, practice good hygiene, and enjoy yourself when gathering with others.

  • Be up to date on vaccines. You can check with your provider to see which ones you’ve had, which ones you’ve had boosters, and which are suggested for your age group and health status. Patients may be eligible for this year’s flu shot, a COVID boost, and even the shingles vaccine. Being up to speed can help your body’s defense fight these should you come into contact with these conditions.
  • Wear a mask. Yes, you’ll get attention and maybe even a few rude comments from people who never liked what masks came to symbolize during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic. But if you’re concerned about your health, you can remind yourself that staying healthy and avoiding/resisting germs with a mask is something to be proud of. Masks also can help the resistance of other conditions besides COVID, such as the flu or colds and even provide a nice face covering when it’s cold outside.
  • Plan your route. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a variety of information and tips for travelers, whether you’ve been planning this trip for months or for those throwing things together at the last second. This can include stopping regularly to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, or packing a portable health kit with items to make sure you have wellness tools all the time, such as bottles of sanitizer, a tube of toothpaste, wipes, and Band-Aids.
  • Stay clean. Dirty hands can cause all sorts of problems, especially if you rub your eyes or face, contaminate surfaces, or infect others. So take any opportunity you can to wash or at least sanitize your hands whenever you think they’ve touched a contaminated surface, including going to the bathroom. Using warm water and soap is the most effective method of removing germs, especially when you scrub for at least 10 seconds.     
  • Limit your time. During the COVID pandemic, the CDC estimated that a social function indoors with standard ventilation should last about two hours, especially something with a big crowd. Lingering after this can increase the risk of exposure.
  • Look for safer locations. Slipping outside now and then can help with ventilation.
  • Avoid noisier areas. COVID taught us that people yelling or singing make it more likely to spread the virus.

Learn more

Want more strategies for better ways to keep your hands clean and practice good hygiene? You can have your chance during National Handwashing Awareness Week. This traditionally takes place the first week of December, and encourages everyone to practice better washing habits to reduce the risk of infection or spreading infection to others.

For those who want more education about the value of this annual celebration, including medical advances in handwashing, there’s some excellent info online.

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