How to have a safer pandemic holiday

Franchesca Tuazon
How to have a safer pandemic holiday

HOLIDAY RUSH. Members of the Manila Police District remind the public of proper physical distancing and other health protocols when they buy affordable gifts for Christmas in Divisoria on December 3, 2020.

Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

With the holiday season fast approaching, can we still celebrate it the way we used to given the COVID-19 pandemic?

With the holiday season in full swing, Filipinos across the country are preparing for gatherings and reunions with their loved ones. But with the threat of COVID-19 is there a safe way to celebrate?

Along with the Department of Health, health specialists do not recommend mixing households and holding large family gatherings that may aid the spread of the virus.

Each family and individual must also be aware of practicing harm reduction measures that would make activities as safe as possible. 

The spread of the virus is definitely a risk during holiday celebrations, experts stressed, and we must be more cautious and careful to protect ourselves and the people around us.

So how can we observe the holiday season with families – without risking safety, especially for those who are vulnerable? 

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Medical experts from Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), Manila Medical Society (MMS), Philippine Medical Informatics Society (PMIS), and Philippine Dental Association (PDA) shared some tips on how to celebrate the holidays “with a twist” – from buying gifts to organizing safer gatherings.

1. Plan meticulously

List down the people you want to invite to the gathering and screen each one. Keep the list slim.

If possible, people attending may go through a 14-day quarantine to help reduce the risk of possibly spreading COVID-19. 

Those who are showing symptoms of the virus, like colds or cough, should not be allowed to attend the gathering.

Take note of local ordinances to check if social gatherings are allowed and how many people may be able to attend.

If gatherings will be unavoidable, it would be better to have them in outdoor venues like gardens or lawns and for shorter periods of time. 

For those who have vulnerable members in the family, it is better to avoid exposing them to other people outside the household as the risk of getting the virus is still present. 

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2. Shop online

As the pandemic has kept thousands of people home, many Filipinos depend on online platforms for buying and selling. 

To prevent the spread of the virus, we can go cashless and shop online to buy the gifts we want to give our friends and families. It will also lessen the risk of spreading the virus because people would not have to go outside to buy the items themselves. 

Once the gifts or items arrive at your homes, never forget to disinfect them first. If possible, you can leave them for at least 5 hours up to 24 hours before taking them inside and opening them.

3. Practice the ‘3Ws’ – wear, watch, wash

It has been normal for us to wear face masks and face shields whenever we go outside. However, this should also be practiced whenever we hold small family gatherings in households. 

This covers kids, too. Children, except those under two years old, must also wear face masks and face shields, Dr Bambi Kasala, a member of the Philippine Pediatric Society and HPAAC, said in a recent webinar.

People should also be conscious of the distance they observe when in a gathering. A 6-foot or 1-meter distance from other people is still highly advised by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Lastly, Kasala reminded people to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If this is not possible, one can sanitize hands with ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, the WHO said.

4. ‘Families that eat together, stay together’

For many Filipinos, eating together during special occasions is a must. But during the pandemic, health specialists are urging people to consider the risk of spreading COVID-19 through such activities.

To reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, some measures that may be taken include having people who live with one another seated together at the same table.

“Try not to have finger foods and other food that will increase contact. Try to have the kainan (get-together) in your own homes instead of traveling or going out to restaurants to avoid exposure, too,” Dr Fe Odrunia of the PDA advised.

Medical professionals also encourage people to avoid large food displays or buffets during the holidays. It would be better if food is packed so that people can bring it home instead of eating in the same gathering and exposing themselves longer.

5. Go virtual

Dr Aileen Espina of the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians urged Filipinos to think of new ways to observe the holidays and celebrate online. 

While virtual events were not ideal, they are much safer, medical workers stressed. 

Families can maximize sites that offer different kinds of entertainment and interaction during their gathering and host virtual events like movie nights or games. This will also allow those who won’t be able to attend celebrations to  participate from afar.

“Do the usual thing of celebrating Christmas but never forget to practice health protocols,” Odrunia said. –

Franchesca Tuazon is a Rappler intern who is studying journalism at the University of the Philippines.