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Beacon Medical Minute: Doctors offer advice for gathering safely with others during the holidays

As we enter our second pandemic holiday season, many of us are asking ourselves what we can do to protect ourselves and others as we gather with others to celebrate. COVID cases are on the rise, not just here at our Beacon hospitals, but in many cities across the country. We asked some of our Beacon physicians to offer their recommendations and personal perspectives.

What do they tell their own family members and friends who ask for their advice?

First and foremost, doctors emphasize that getting vaccinated is the very best protection against COVID-19. There is still time to get your vaccine — or your booster shot if you are an adult 18 or older — before Christmas or other holidays later in the year.

Dr. Dale Patterson, Memorial Hospital‘s vice president of medical affairs, shared the importance of masking, distancing and taking other precautions depending on the people with whom you are gathering.

“If everyone is young and vaccinated, there’s probably very little risk and you probably don’t have to do much more,” he says. “If you’re gathering with people who are older, unvaccinated or have complicated medical problems, you should think about taking extra precautions.”

Consider taking a rapid COVID test on the day of your gathering. “You definitely don’t want to gather with anyone if you have symptoms.” Dr. Patterson offers additional recommendations in this Medical Minute:

Holiday gatherings are important for our health and well-being, so taking safety seriously is a key to helping everyone enjoy the occasion, says Dr. Jason Marker, associate director of the Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency Program.

Knowing who is fully vaccinated — and who is not — is important information as you make your plans.

Also, being in tune with who on your invitation list may be at higher risk of complications should they become infected is worth considering. With this information, Marker says decisions can be made about where to have a gathering, how much social distancing may be needed, how to think about seating locations around a table, and how long a gathering might last.

“Allowing guests to make their own decisions about attending, and sharing everyone’s decision among the group, should take as much time as needed so that everyone can feel that they have been included in the decision and to avoid unwelcome surprises on the day of the gathering,” Marker said.

“As long as everyone feels included in the decision-making, and can understand that things may still look a little different this year in the interest of keeping everyone maximally safe, family and friends should be able to gather — with just a few precautions.”

Dr. Luke White, Beacon Medical Group critical care pulmonologist, has been talking to his children about current COVID precautions by taking them back in time. He shared with them the story of the first Thanksgiving, for example, when our ancestors were struggling immigrants in a new country who had lost many people they loved to disease.

Four hundred years later, we also face sickness, suffering and separation from those we love. And while we can’t get rid of these things, he explains to his children how we can protect ourselves.

“This year, that means vaccinating — for ourselves, for those we love and for those we’ve never met,” Dr. White shares. “It means wearing masks in public places, because illness is still with us. It means continuing to do the hard things, knowing that this will pass and better years await.”

Until that time, Beacon Medical Group Cleveland Road family physician Dr. Christopher Hall says that we might add COVID to the short list of topics — politics and religion — to avoid in “polite” conversation during the holidays.

“Unfortunately, I’ve learned this through my own personal experience,” Hall says. “The last two years have seen a lot of frustration, anger, fear and sadness. My youngest daughter has lived almost a quarter of her life under the threat of COVID. She knows no different.”

But for those of us who have lived through other trying times — recessions, the Cold War and 9/11, to name a few — we not only survived, Hall says, but we also learned to thrive. The global pandemic of nearly two years is no different.

“We will get through this as well, but only if we learn to work together,” Hall says. “Take time this Thanksgiving to enjoy each other’s company. Work to build back some of those connections that have frayed over the past two years. Treat each other with respect and most importantly, be safe.”

About Heidi Prescott-Wieneke