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How to spend holidays with the family safely

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How to spend holidays with the family safely

The holidays won't be business as usual this year. With Thanksgiving now less than a month away, families across the U.S. are trying to figure out what at times seems like an impossible riddle: How can we still celebrate but do it safely?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many states have put out guidelines on how to celebrate safely, including doing it virtually or outdoors, or even limiting the amount of time spent indoors together. But that advice isn't realistic for everyone (outdoor Thanksgiving in Minnesota anyone?). Everyone has their own complicated variables to consider. Some people have families that live a long plane ride away, elderly parents or siblings with high-risk health conditions.

We asked listeners of our Prognosis podcast to call in with their questions about social distancing and the holidays, and we posed them to Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Hidalgo's family is in California, so she's been thinking about a lot of the same things. And she had some really good, practical advice.
First off, she said, don't bother getting a Covid-19 test before a large gathering. There are too many variables for them to be a sure-fire way to tell you're free of the virus. For example, she said, if you take the test at the wrong time, you could easily get a negative result even if you're positive. It's better to just quarantine before seeing family — as well as after.

If you have kids in school, and people are coming to your home for the holidays, she said it's not a bad idea to pull them out beforehand, so they can quarantine, too. And if you have college kids coming home, best keep them as separate as possible from everyone else.

If you're going to be hopping on a plane, Hidalgo said, it's a good idea to wear protective eyewear in addition to a mask. Some studies have suggested that transmission on airplanes themselves isn't that bad, especially if people wear masks. But people still take off masks to eat and drink, and airports themselves are really high-traffic places. Better yet, she said, why not go home at a different time, when there are fewer people traveling and less risk? If you celebrate Christmas in April, that's also more time to figure out what to get your mom.

As always, the safest choice is to stay home and skip the stress of figuring out how to deep-fry a turkey for 12 people. But if you are going celebrate the holidays with friends or family, there are lots of ways to minimize that risk.

By the way, if you have any more questions about social-distance etiquette or anything else during this confusing time, please give us a call and leave a voicemail at (646) 324-3490. We might play it on the podcast! —Kristen V. Brown

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