Social Bubbles, Travel, Tests & Guests. Holiday Planning Ahead with Advice from Two CLT Doctors

Holiday planning is always tough (Whose family are we celebrating with this year? What days of the week do Christmas and New Year fall?). But throw a pandemic into the mix and it’s a whole different set of questions to be asking yourself. Well, who better to ask than two physicians who are also mothers to young children. Dr. Althea Cunningham and Dr. Reshma Vora, internal medicine doctors at Tryon Medical Partners, share how they’ve been balancing it all in 2020 and what we need to know as we head into the holiday season.

This series on Women’s Health is brought to you by Tryon Medical Partnersan independent practice of nearly 90 physicians who joined forces because they share the core belief that the patient-doctor connection is the foundation for better health.

Do You Have a Social Bubble?

Dr. Vora: Yes, I have a small group of people who we’ve been seeing regularly over the past six months. It’s important to socialize and connect with others and it’s possible to do it safely if you’re all on the same page and open and honest with each other. Being with friends and family helps to lower stress levels and brings happiness.

Dr. Cunningham: We didn’t have contact with anyone at the beginning of the pandemic but then expanded our bubble to include parents and a family member who is pregnant. We do all that we can to minimize any risks, preferring to socialize outside to reduce exposure to germs and if we need to be indoors, we wear masks. We need to be able to see our family but do it safely.

Is It OK to Travel This Year?

Dr. Vora: I think it’s best to try and spend the holidays with those you’ve already been seeing. If you will be seeing anyone new, you need to all be on the same page and open and honest with each other. Plans must be changed if anyone is not feeling well. The safest way to travel right now is by car, to limit your exposure to germs. If you need to stop at a restroom along the way, wear a mask, get in and out as quickly as possible and have hand sanitizer ready. Try to socially distance at all times.

Dr. Cunningham: If you can, try to stay local this year and avoid travel, especially if anyone has underlying health conditions. Do not travel to any places having a surge in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is a great reference for this. Driving is a safer choice than flying. Plan to pack your own food or choose drive-thru options to avoid going inside. If stopping for gasoline, sanitize the gas handle and the buttons prior to touching. Remember to sanitize your hands after you are finished. If you must fly, choose a direct flight, wear your mask at all times, wipe down anything that you touch and wash your hands frequently.

Can I Have Guests Over?

Dr. Vora: You want to think about what your exposures have been and if you’ve been at risk, and the same is true for anyone who would be coming into your home, especially any older guests or those with underlying health conditions. If you can’t meet outside, plan to wear masks and socially distance inside, including spreading out at dinner.

Dr. Cunningham: I recommend limiting gatherings to immediate family members and using FaceTime or Zoom to see extended family. If the weather is nice and you have an outdoor space, you can hold small gatherings outside. With holiday meals, have only one person serve the food and make the plates, limiting the number of people who touch utensils.

Should We Get COVID Tests Before Seeing Family?

Dr. Vora: The CDC does not recommend testing if you are asymptomatic. However, if you are planning to see someone who is high risk and this would make you more comfortable, you should ask your doctor for a test.

Dr. Cunningham: If family will be staying for longer visits, it’s not realistic that masks can be worn at all times. Testing would then make sense, especially if anyone is high risk. It may also be a good idea for essential workers to get tested. Every state has different regulations with regards to testing and quarantine periods, so check the CDC website.

Is There a Way to Differentiate Between a Cold and the Flu?

Dr. Vora: Unfortunately, not really. If you feel you have possibly been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and have upper respiratory symptoms, it makes sense to call your doctor. Tests are most effective after showing symptoms for 48 hours.

Dr. Cunningham: The presentation for COVID is so variable that we are going to have to test anyone with upper respiratory symptoms. Hopefully, the precautions we are taking to prevent the spread of COVID will also help prevent the spread of other illnesses. Virtual visits and satellite testing locations are available to keep our offices safe for all healthy guests and staff.

Do I Need to Get My Flu Shot This Year?

Dr. Vora: Absolutely. We saw in the spring that it’s possible to get both the flu and COVID at the same time. We are fortunate that we have a vaccine available for the flu so we need to protect ourselves against it.

Dr. Cunningham: Yes! It is more important than ever before to get your flu vaccine this year.

What Else Do We Need to Know?

Dr. Vora: People should feel confident in the choices they make for their family, as everyone has different comfort levels right now. It’s ok to say no and suggest other plans to celebrate with friends and family, virtually. Take care of yourself to keep your immune system strong by exercising, eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting a good night’s sleep, taking care of your mental health and well-being and continuing to get routine, preventative care. Keep perspective and know that we will not be in a pandemic forever.

Dr. Cunningham: Remember that what we do now will affect the kind of holidays that we can have in a few months. Don’t get complacent. Please continue to socially distance, wear masks and wash your hands regularly. There is light at the end of the tunnel.


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