Holiday travel: Keep your loved ones safe this winter as COVID-19 spreads

November 09, 2020
mask and suitcase

Regence’s Dr. Oliveira: “The virus doesn’t have legs; it only goes places because we take it there”

By Regence

You might want to consider a few things before you head over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for the holidays this year.  

COVID-19’s ongoing spread, including recent record daily diagnoses, have forced many families to rethink their traditional holiday gatherings as they weigh the risk of infection, particularly among older people. In response to rising cases in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recently asked that people postpone travel and stay home to help protect themselves and and loved ones.

“COVID doesn’t care that it’s a holiday,” Barbara Alexander, president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told the Washington Post. “Now is not the time to let our guard down and say it’s the holiday and let’s be merry. I think we need to maintain our vigilance here.”

Many seem to be heeding that advice. According to a national survey of 461 respondents Regence conducted with consumer research platform Feedback Loop, 58 percent don’t plan to socialize outside their household this holiday season. Forty-one percent don’t plan to travel because of COVID rates, while 24 percent say they will travel but plan to take precautions such as wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer.

Celebrating the holidays with those in your own household, or even virtually, is the lowest risk for spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anything more than that requires more careful consideration of the level of COVID-19 in the community, the number of attendees and the ability to maintain a safe physical distance, and whether those attending have engaged in safe health behaviors, among other things, the CDC advises.

Traveling does increase the chance of getting or spreading the virus, but those who decide to do so should understand the risk and how to minimize it through careful hand washing, wearing a mask, maintaining distance and avoiding those who are sick.

“After already sacrificing a lot this year because of COVID, it’s difficult to give up our family holiday gatherings, too,” said Dr. Drew Oliveira, senior executive medical director for Regence. “But we cannot let down as cases continue to rise in so many places. We need to continue to protect one another by taking the appropriate precautions.”

The CDC offers a wealth of information to review as you plan your holiday celebrations, including things to take into account about gathering with family, travel tips, serving food and other guidance.

As the holidays also come during the fall and winter months when people are moving indoors, where disease can spread more readily through dry air and poorly ventilated spaces, practicing good health hygiene is even more critical.

This time of year is also when the flu virus takes off, so getting your flu vaccine is another way to protect yourself and others. Regence covers flu shots at 100% for most members. Learn more on Regence’s flu-shot page.

For many, it’s difficult to imagine the holidays without family and friends, and that can cast a shadow of sadness over the season. But it’s important to think about the most vulnerable among you as you weigh whether to travel or gather with people beyond your immediate household.

“The virus doesn’t have legs; it only goes places because we take it there,” Oliveira said.

Given the variety of risk factors this year – current COVID surge, weather changes pushing us indoors and timing with flu season – this might be the year to be creative about family celebrations so everyone stays safe.

In the video below, Dr. Oliveira talks about the importance of staying safe and taking precautions this holiday seaon to help slow COVID-19 from spreading. This includes the CDC's recommendation to only celebrate Thanksgiving with your immediate household.

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