With the holidays quickly approaching, we know that how to safely celebrate the season is on many people’s minds. As per Ontario’s public health advice on how to protect you and your loved ones this season, some of the safer holiday activities include those that take place outside, like skating, hiking, building a snowman or tobogganing.
To help clarify some of the recommendations and provide further guidance, we turned to our chief medical officer. Dr. Nord shared his advice in a recent Medcan Presents: How to Safely Celebrate the Holidays, which you can watch on our YouTube channel.
Following are some of the questions Dr. Nord received, and answered, regarding the upcoming holidays and staying safe:
Q: Is indoor gathering with family permissible in any way this holiday season?
A: It depends on the region. For example, at this time Timmins does not have COVID cases. People need to be aware of what’s going on in your own community, and follow the recommendations appropriate to their jurisdiction. Aside from that, consider your own personal risk tolerance, as well as the medical history and immune status of those people you’re considering visiting. In terms of risk management, it all goes back to the basic themes: wearing a mask, staying two metres apart and frequent hand hygiene. Of course, outdoors is less risky than indoors.
Q: If it does become safe to entertain in small groups indoors, can I serve food and drink?
A: If you want to reduce risk, keep your mask on, and don’t have any food or drink. Eating food is not a major vector for transmission. Rather, the risk has more to do with the activities that bring us together as we eat and drink. Especially important is that as the night goes on, and if alcohol is consumed, we’re more likely to stand close to others, chatting, laughing and possibly forgetting to return masks to the proper position after the latest sip. All of those actions will significantly increase the risk of virus transmission.
Q: What recommendations can you make for those who are eating in a large group, sharing a meal from a central platter and eating with their hands?
A: The risk is actually not directly related to food or in the sharing of food; it’s the proximity to each other and not wearing masks. So to be safe, practice proper hand hygiene, which includes washing your hands thoroughly, including underneath your nails. As well, to reduce risk, cough into your elbow during the meal, and don’t sing or laugh without your mask on.
Q: Is it safe to socialize in a neighbour’s 10×18-foot garage if the door is open and we’re sitting two metres apart?
A: With the garage door open, it’s kind of like being in a box with one side open. So it’s definitely better than being inside a house, but it’s not as good as being on a completely wall-less outdoor patio. As for being two metres apart, if the garage is about 180 square feet, then the maximum number of people you can safely have in the garage would be five. So again, it’s better than being fully indoors, but it’s not as good as being fully outside.
Q: If we are inside, should I open the windows to increase airflow?
A: Anything we can do to ensure that air is moving well contributes to risk mitigation. Condominiums are often designed so that they have a natural airflow. Opening windows in homes definitely helps with air flow, and helps disperse droplets. Also consider using fans to get the air moving.
Q: In my area, it’s not possible to get a test if I’m asymptomatic. I would like to see my parents over the holidays. Since I can’t get a test, is there any way I can ensure I’m COVID-negative before visiting them?
A: It’s been found that most people experience symptoms on average three days after being exposed to the virus. So because that’s an average, to be safe, you would want to quarantine at least a week without symptoms. Then, to reduce your risk even further, wear your mask and keep your distance from anyone you are visiting.
Q: I’m planning to fly. What type of mask should I wear?
A: Surgical/medical masks will stop 95% of all droplets from leaving the mask, and do a very good job on the prevention side as well, even though they weren’t specifically designed to prevent the wearer from getting infected.
Dr. Peter Nord is the chief medical officer at Medcan.