The holiday season is upon us and this year should look a little different as we continue to take precautions during the pandemic. A Baylor College of Medicine expert says a small gathering can still take place, you just need to establish your holiday bubble.
“The first step is to have an honest conversation with yourself to assess your risk,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor. “If you are elderly, immunosuppressed or have a serious underlying medical condition, you need to weigh the risks of holiday celebrations against the potential benefits.”
If you are high risk, the only way to remain completely safe is to isolate, McDeavitt said. However, if you want to be social over the holidays, McDeavitt said the next step is to create your holiday bubble made up of a small network of trusted friends and family who abide by the same COVID-19 safety measures, lowering the risk of contracting the virus.
He warns that this will take commitment from all involved. Half-hearted commitments will only lead to a false sense of security, putting you and others at risk for exposure to the virus.
McDeavitt lays out what to do to establish your bubble.
- Get your flu shot to support a healthy immune system.
- Have a serious family conversation about who is at high medical risk, who will take the precautions seriously and who will commit to the regulations. If your risk tolerance is low, even a bubble may be too risky.
- Have everyone follow the Holiday Bubble Checklist and name a person to remind the group to do so periodically.
- Agree on a location for holiday gatherings, such as a private home where you know the owner has followed safety precautions.
Two weeks prior to holiday
- Everyone planning to enter the holiday bubble must make extra effort to limit contact with other individuals, such as working from home if possible and rigorous self-quarantining.
- Add a plastic face shield or goggles to your cloth mask when you are indoors and in contact with others.
- Conduct daily symptom and temperature monitoring. If you become symptomatic or have any fever (even low grade), reach out to your physician and be tested with a PCR test (not a rapid test). If your test is positive, cancel your participation in the bubble, along with all others who live in your household.
- Decide who will be the cook and stock up on non-perishable ingredients in advance. Use a grocery service with touchless delivery to maintain your quarantine status.
- If you are traveling to your destination, check travel restrictions such as quarantine requirements to be prepared.
5-7 days prior to holiday
- Get a PCR test. If positive, cancel your participation in the bubble, along with all others who live in your household.
- Stock up on hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for travel as well as face shields or goggles to wear in addition to masks.
- Complete your food shopping using touchless delivery.
- Recheck travel restrictions.
Traveling to the bubble:
- A road trip should preferably be made in a single day.
- Bring your own travel snacks to avoid stops.
- Mask, physically distance and sanitize hands if you must leave your car. Consider adding a plastic face shield in addition to a cloth mask.
- Wear a cloth mask, face shield or goggles at all times. You may consider using a well fitted N95 (in place of the cloth mask) if available. Important: the face shield or goggles are in addition to, not in the place of, a mask.
- Skip snacks and drinks.
- Use the restroom prior to boarding to avoid using the airplane lavatory. If you must use the lavatory, keep your mask on, and wash your hands thoroughly.
During the holiday
- If you are confident everyone has followed the guidelines, you are relatively safe in your bubble.
- For high-risk family members (elderly, immunosuppressed) it is recommended to continue to follow good masking, hand hygiene and distancing practices.
“Enjoy your fellowship with bubble-compliant friends and family. After all your hard work, planning and preparation, you can relax and enjoy the holiday,” McDeavitt added.
If you are not able to adhere to this level of commitment, McDeavitt said, a safe holiday still possible but requires planning. Alternatives to remain safe might include limiting your celebration only to your immediate household. Consider a well-spaced, masked event out-of-doors or remote video options.