COVID safety for holiday gatherings

By Morgan Cormack for the City of Overland Park

With the holidays right around the corner, you’re likely starting to make plans. But how do you celebrate with the family during a pandemic? Are gatherings canceled altogether? The decision to celebrate with others is still a personal one, but there are several ways to minimize your risks if you plan to get together this holiday season.  

The Safety Of Traveling Right Now 

You may want to see family outside of Overland Park, or have family come in town for celebrations. Dr. Kimberly Megow with HCA Midwest Health says while no travel option is 100 percent safe from COVID-19, it’s not as risky as you might expect.

“I do believe travel is safer than we first imagined, Dr. Megow says. “I would say traveling by plane is not without risk at all, but it is a lot safer than it used to be and more than we probably imagined at the beginning of this pandemic.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended avoiding travel for the holidays, recognizing that travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Experts there recommend considering a number of factors before deciding whether to get together with people outside your home.

Recent data by the Department of Defense says the virus transmission rates on flights and in airports are lower than expected because of strict new guidelines.

Kansas City International Airport is taking steps to keep you safe if you decide to fly. They’ve placed distance markers throughout the airport and on airport buses so people can maintain their space. Public areas like counters, bathrooms, and security areas are being frequently disinfected.

Dr. Megow also says traveling by car with the family is even better, but again, not without risk. “The risk is introduced when you stop for gas or go into a restaurant or what have you.”

What about having the family stay together? Can you stay in a hotel?

“Just because we’re family doesn’t mean we aren’t contagious,” Dr. Megow says. While she isn’t against family staying together in a clean house, she says other options are available if you feel better doing so. “I think the question that none of us have the answer to is in a specific hotel. How are they cleaning? What is their air ventilation like?” Dr. Megow asks. “Although I do believe there are plenty of hotels that create very safe environments.” 

She also says an AirBnB can be alright, especially with one family using the building when it has been cleaned before your stay. 

What To Bring If You’re Traveling 

Masks, masks, and more masks. 

If you’re flying, most airlines require masks to be worn during your entire flight. And don’t forget them if you’re hitting the road. Many public places all over the country require them upon entry. Dr. Megow emphasizes that you have a clean mask every day of your trip, whether it’s disposable or reusable ones. Overland Park and all of Johnson County is under a mask mandate. So if you have family coming to town, make sure they wear theirs, too. 

Of course besides masks, it’s best to pack some hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes before you hit the road or take to the skies.  

“The wipes are really handy to wipe down all surfaces you use when traveling,” Dr. Megow says. As for hand sanitizer, any with an alcohol content of 65 percent  or greater  will work when it comes to keeping your hands clean.

Putting Family Members At Risk 

COVID unfortunately doesn’t go away once you enter grandma or grandpa’s house. 

“If we go into a home with an older adult in it, we don’t know for certain if we are actually carrying the virus to them,” Dr. Megow says. If you do go to or hold a family gathering, and older family members will be there, be safe. 

Social distancing and mask wearing can certainly help along with frequent hand washing.

 “I wouldn’t tell people they shouldn’t go and see any family because I don’t know if that’s tenable in the long term, Dr. Megow says, “but I do believe we should proceed with caution.” 

The CDC says if you do have family or friends over, don’t pack your house full of guests. Limit the number of people so there’s more social distancing. It’s also good to increase ventilation in the home. You can crack open some windows and doors, depending on the weather. 

Family Visit Alternatives

If you don’t want to risk it with gatherings, there’s options that are low to no risks involved. Dr. Megow suggests having visits outside the home on the patio (weather-permitting) or in a spacious outdoor venue. She also suggests thinking outside of the box. “Maybe just share a drink or dessert with family members rather than a major dinner event,” she says. 

It limits the amount of time people are around each other. There’s always the option to FaceTime or Zoom with the family.

”Some would say it’s a poor substitute but at least it gives folks an opportunity to see each other and communicate without putting each other at risk,” Dr. Megow says.

The Bottom Line

Don’t travel if you think you’re sick, or you’ve been around someone who is ill. The CDC says don’t travel if you know you’ve been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. Even if you’re feeling fine, you can still carry the virus and give it to someone else in your family. 

And be sure to wear masks, wash your hands, and social distance whether in Overland Park or elsewhere. 

“The last thing we want to give out at Christmas or Thanksgiving is a bad disease,” Dr.  Megow says. 

A note from the editor:

Overland Park is working with community writers to bring you important news, information and stories regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the City’s response to coronavirus.