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The holiday season brings out the natural human need for togetherness and the desire to gather with loved ones, but health officials warn that doing so in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic could put those loved ones at risk.

The Beacon spoke with DeLand resident Dr. Allen Johnson, a professor at Rollins College and an epidemiologist, about how to minimize your risk of transmitting the sometimes-deadly disease during Christmastime.

Johnson said Florida, like most of the country, is experiencing widespread community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Allen Johnson

“What we’re seeing is that the primary situations in which it’s spreading is eating in … restaurants, and bars, and with college campuses,” he said. “And then the fourth is gatherings, like family gatherings. We saw a spike after Thanksgiving.”

He urged people to stay diligent through this phase of the pandemic.

“We are finally starting to kind of get toward the end. I know it’s a big ask because, I mean, we’ve all just had it, and want this thing to be over,” Johnson said. “If we could just hold off a little bit longer, for this one, this one Christmas, as we did for Thanksgiving, at the very latest, next summer, we all should be able to have vaccines.”

Here are Johnson’s tips for a safe holiday:

  • Generally, keep gatherings smaller, keep travel to a minimum, and move parties to outside areas, instead of in homes.
  • Consider gathering only with immediate family members.
  • Think “physical distancing,” instead of social distancing, using technology to stay in touch. “Stay socially connected,” he said. “That’s really important for us as people, and for our relationships, and our wellbeing. So, although I encourage physical distancing, I definitely encourage people to engage with their family members in different ways.”
  • Consider setting up chairs outside and gathering with family in the open air, or set up a virtual meeting.
  • If gatherings will include members of different households, consider asking everyone involved to get tested for COVID-19 a few days before the gathering. State officials offer tests for free, Johnson said, and results tend to come back within a few days, rather than the wait times of up to two weeks experienced earlier in the pandemic. “I think if everybody comes up negative, then then you can feel more comfortable,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted that getting negative tests before a gathering reduces the risk, but doesn’t eliminate it. A family member could contract the disease in the days between being tested and getting results.

Johnson acknowledged that staying apart during a time like Christmas or Hanukkah is difficult for many, but he urged residents to hold off on large gatherings for just a bit longer, since help is on the way, in the form of several vaccines currently in the process of being approved by government agencies.

“The thing is — I mean, this is tough. And, you know, it’s disrupting lives, taking away from, you know, things that we normally do,” Johnson said. “But just, it’s important to not ease up, at this point, because we’re so close. Finally, we have the vaccines coming through. There’s some positive developments.”

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