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Celebrating Safely: COVID-19 and the Holidays

Wouter Rietsema, MD, Vice President Population Health and Information Services, AHMC & CVPH

The holiday season is fast approaching, and with COVID-19 still prevalent in our region, it is important to think about how we can celebrate safely during get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues.

Late last spring, we all expected that this holiday season would be back to normal. Sadly, the emergence of the delta variant has changed that. The following numbers, while offering some encouraging signs, also show the pandemic is not over:

Across New York State, daily cases are slowly declining, with about 4,000 cases per day. That is down from highs of 5,000-6,000 per day in mid-September.

Our 3 county region (Clinton, Essex, Franklin) is still seeing 50-70 cases per day, which is down about 20 per day from our peak.

We also know that the highest risk exposures are in families and social circles congregating indoors with lots of eating and drinking. While we are all vaccinated, breakthrough cases do occur and will result in some risk to our patients, coworkers, community members and loved ones, although that risk is far less than this time last year, when vaccines were not yet available. Breakthrough cases, while mostly mild, can still make you feel sick and will also result in time lost from work. Even as the current surge declines, we will likely see future mini-surges and outbreaks, although much smaller in scope and severity.

With all this in mind, for your personal planning, we recommend the following:

  1. Encourage your family and friends to be vaccinated and get a booster if they are eligible. That way, even if your family or social network does experience COVID, the impact will be irritating, but much less severe.
  2. Follow the CDC guidelines here for safer holidays.
  3. Avoid large gatherings of persons indoors where there will be lots of eating and drinking. This means companies and organizations should consider skipping sponsored or condoned activities of this nature.

This does not mean that we need to bubble wrap ourselves and spend another holiday season in isolation. Getting together and enjoying each other’s company, including in a workplace setting, is doable as long as it is done safely. At CVPH, we are gradually encouraging more in-person meetings while following necessary guidelines to keep everyone in the room safe. That means smaller gatherings, where everyone is masked and there is no eating or drinking (unless people can be consistently and reliably socially distanced).  

I know we want it to be like pre-COVID, but we are making progress. This holiday season will be far better than last despite delta, all because of the miracle of our vaccines. As vaccination continues and as children are able to be vaccinated, we will make even more progress - albeit slowly.

For 2022, we will start thinking about COVID as just one of many risks that we face. There will be a time when the virus no longer dominates our decisions. Given the current impact of COVID on our community, we are not quite there yet.