The holiday season is upon us.
But a panel of experts participating in the latest Newsday Live webinar, "Celebrating the Holidays During a Pandemic," said that for this year we should rethink our usual traditions.
Establish hard-and-fast ground rules for get-togethers, set size limits on how many family members can attend, consider virtual holiday get-togethers instead of in-person ones, and maybe even take the year off, they said.
Such is life in the time of COVID-19.
"Unfortunately, COVID-19 has not gone away … Explain what has to happen and why it has to happen," said Dr. Lawrence Ferber, director of behavioral health, central intake services, for the Catholic Health Services system.
The panel, which in addition to Ferber included Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Childen's Hospital, and Dr. Evangelos Loukas, associate medical director at Plainview and Syosset Hospitals, agreed there's a need to rethink any potential gatherings.
Common sense rules, safe social distancing and hygiene protocols, such as wearing masks and using hand-sanitizers, being hypervigilant about your own health and well-being and symptoms and being considerate of the safety of others — all need to play a role this holiday season.
This includes Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year's, to name a few.
"You could test negative (for the virus)," Nachman said, "and still be incubating — and be infectious. … There are responsibilities we all have to talk about."
And Loukas added: "I would definitely suggest you limit group sizes. What I would recommend is your immediate family and maybe 2 or 3 close friends you know."
So, what can you do to ensure you and your loved ones a safe holiday season?
Don't rely on COVID-19 tests, for starters, Nachman said. While they might ensure you're not positive today they can't guarantee you won't be positive tomorrow.
"Relying on a test you had Tuesday is not accurate for Thursday at Thanksgiving," she said. "Unless you're getting tested as you walk in the door, it doesn't tell you about tomorrow or the next day."
Consider providing extra ventilation, even in the winter, Loukas said. Open windows, doors, perhaps use heaters to warm the space to offset the cold — though space heaters can present their own safety concerns.
Maintain social distancing protocols. Instead of having an entire group at one large table, keep family members who live together at tables together, apart from those who don't. Keep gatherings small and intimate. Perhaps connect via social media platforms at meal time. Use disposable cutlery and plates. Have one person serve everyone.
"If I were hosting, I would put the rules out if you want to come," Nachman said. "I'd email them, say 'here are the rules.' "