The holiday season has arrived, and the most wonderful time of the year is quickly becoming a concerning time of year for many of us. COVID-19 is still present in our community, and we have to remain vigilant to keep the virus at bay. By following the recommended guidance, we can still safely celebrate the holidays with our families.

I know many are tired of COVID-19 and the restrictions this virus has had on our lives, but now is not the time to let our guard down. Every single COVID case is preventable, and every single COVID death is preventable.

If every person in Gwinnett County would wear a mask, stay six feet or more away from others, wash your hands often, stay home when you’re sick and stay away from others who are sick, we could stop this virus cold. Our case rates would plummet. Lives would be saved, and our families safer.

Here are some things we can do to safely celebrate the holidays:

♦ Avoid large gatherings, especially indoors but also outdoor.

♦ Avoid crowded events like parades and busy stores.

♦ Keep your family gathering small, and stay local.

♦ Prepare a meal at home with your household, and perhaps host a virtual dinner with your out-of-town family.

♦ Consider shopping online instead of in stores — may sales are online and many local stores have online options.

♦ If you do gather, do so wisely:

♦ Wear a mask and social distance.

♦ Wash or sanitize your hands regularly, especially before eating.

♦ Avoid shared food, like potlucks or buffets.

Of course, travel is a big part of our holiday season, too. Because of crowds, travelers can have increased exposure to COVID-19 when using public transportation such as airports, bus stations and trains. Wear a mask and social distance to help you stay safe while traveling. If you are sick before your travel, I implore you not to travel. Don’t risk spreading COVID-19 or any other illness to your fellow travelers and out-of-town family.

If you’re not ill before traveling, consider getting a COVID-19 test before you go and after you return. Be sure to check travel restrictions about testing requirements. Some states and transportation services are requiring a negative PCR COVID-19 test before you travel. Make sure you know the time frame for when you need the results. As of this writing, the Health Department’s PCR tests take about 72 hours to return results.

This has certainly has been a challenging year, and I know everyone is looking forward to getting back to normal and spending time with family and friends. Again, we have to remain focused on stopping the virus. This holiday season will look much different than those of the past, but if we stay committed to practicing the prevention measures as we wait for a vaccine, we will get our normal friends-and-family activities back in no time.

Dr. Audrey Arona is the district health director for Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments.

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