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Thankful at Home: Pandemic's Front-Line Providers Share Holiday Plans

A record-breaking upsurge in COVID-19 cases reinforces stay-at-home decisions

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Written by Debra Melani on November 16, 2020
What You Need To Know

Four front-line providers during the pandemic share their plans and reasons for staying home this holiday season. For those who opt to gather or travel, they offer resources and advice.

It probably comes as no surprise that four top infectious disease experts at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus plan on staying close to home for the holidays. Caring for the people hit the hardest by the pandemic certainly influences perspectives.

That doesn’t mean they have the answer for all the families grappling with their own celebration decisions after a long, socially distanced spring and summer. They do, however, ask people to consider plans carefully, create ways to enjoy the holidays despite pandemic restrictions, and take care of themselves and others.

“I think we are all sacrificing this year,” said Dean Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, of the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH). “We’re probably even feeling a little more fatigued and battered with this recent rise in the pandemic.”

For a list of tips on handling the holidays safely – from traveling

to hosting and much more – see the CDC guideline page.

Upsurge raises risks

A third and record-breaking upsurge of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began has taken hold in Colorado (and across the country), with the governor recently asking that all Coloradans stay home with only household members as the state rides out the wave.

“Certainly, individuals who are at risk need to think very carefully about the potential to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 while traveling,” Samet said. Young, otherwise healthy people also need to consider what family members they might endanger if they visit, he said.


Michelle Barron, MD

Many factors raise the risk of severe COVID-19, from age and obesity to pregnancy and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The United States topped 11 million cases and 245,000 deaths from COVID-19 this month.

‘Protect your loved ones’

The incessantly upbeat Michelle Barron, MD, a professor of infectious disease at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, will forgo in-person partying largely for her elderly parents’ sake this year. But that won’t stop her from having fun with family, and she hopes others in similar situations will follow suit.

“We have other means of connecting, so make the effort to protect your loved ones this year so that you can continue to have them around for many years to come,” Barron said.

While she is also missing out on in-person celebrations this year, Lisa Miller, MD, MSPH, will have her family and colleagues in mind. “This is a way to care for each other by not putting each other at risk, and to care for our healthcare workers by not increasing their burden,” said Miller, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology.

Make staying home fun

This year, when Barron sets a laptop next to her cookbook on the counter, preparing festive foods with family and friends virtually, Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, will be visiting with extended family via technology.


Lisa Miller, MD

The recent uptick in cases, with more hospital ICU beds in use in Colorado than ever before during the pandemic, clinched his decision, said Mays, chair of the Department of Health Systems, Management & Policy. But that won’t stop him from outdoor adventures with his own home crew this holiday season.

“I do plan to do my share of skiing this season, but the main difference from last year will be no time spent in indoor ski resort venues like restaurants and lodges,” Mays said. “It will be day trips to the mountains, and the après-ski will be all outdoors.”

Barron notes there are many ways to have fun through technology with a little creativity. Plan family and/or friend online parties, she said. Or have ugly sweater or dance competitions. “Then have everyone post their videos and vote on the winners.”

Set a game plan if traveling

For people who do opt to travel, diligently follow all public health safety advice, Samet said. That includes checking the rates of flu and COVID-19 through health departments in both their community and the area they plan to visit, he said. If cases are spiking in either community, rethink plans, he said.

While everyone should have a flu shot with this season’s double COVID-19/flu threat, that’s especially true for travelers, Samet said. Both respiratory infections can strike a person at the same time, potentially increasing risk of severity, particularly in older adults.


Glen Mays, PhD

“The good news is so far we don’t have much flu circulating,” Samet said. “But that can change by the holidays.” Of course, following pandemic precautions of distancing, wearing masks and hand washing could help keep a bad flu season at bay, he said.

Other tips from Samet for those who travel or join gatherings include:

  • Quarantine for 14 days beforehand.
  • Get tested with negative results in hand before departing.
  • Consider what you would do if you were infected on your trip and were forced to quarantine in place.
  • Consider driving rather than flying, not so much because of the airplane ride itself, but because of all the points of possible infection that come before and after the flight.
  • Be hyper-vigilant with mask, social-distancing and hygiene protocols.
  • Check the CDC holiday guideline page.

No matter what people do for the holidays, Samet said the season could be emotionally tough for many people. “I think at this point in the pandemic, people are becoming depressed and anxious. It’s a time where we have to be aware of where we are and where family members are, and if people are really not doing well (seek help) or urge them to find the help they need.”

Mays encouraged everyone to hang in there. “We are in the dreary middle miles of this marathon, but the finish line is out there, so we have to keep at it. Relatively small sacrifices are absolutely critical for keeping our friends, family and community safe.”

Topics: Community, COVID-19