Five tips for staying healthy over the holidays

man speaks to woman and virtually press their hands together over video chat
(photo by lisegagne via Getty Images)

As we head into a season when many people traditionally gather with family and friends, public health advice could be boiled down to one word: don’t.

There are exceptions, of course. You may have a friend or relative who lives alone and needs support. But for the most part, experts say, now is the time to exercise caution and restraint.

“The current modelling shows that in most parts of Canada, things will get worse before they get better,” Professor Vivek Goel, a public health expert and special adviser to the University of Toronto’s president and provost, says in the latest episode of his podcast. “We have to limit our interactions over the holidays in order to break the chain of transmission.

“Generally, it's recommended that you stick to your own household.”

A household is usually defined as the people you live with – either family or roommates. Those who live alone may get together exclusively with one other household.

Because COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, experts can’t yet say what kind of immunity you can get if you’ve had the virus. We don’t know, for example, whether someone who’s recovered from COVID-19 could still carry and transmit the virus months later. So, for now, with hospitals stretched and case numbers going up, it’s a good idea to act as if you might have the virus and avoid spreading it to anyone.

With that in mind, here are five tips for keeping yourself and others safe over the holidays.

Stay home

Throughout our communities, many people work in jobs that require them to show up in person and interact with others – whether they’re working in health care, food services, schools, manufacturing or other essential sectors. So, to reduce overall transmission in the community, those of us who can stay home, should stay home.

Social bonds are important for mental health, so public health experts strongly advise you find ways to connect remotely. Just make sure you’re being together while staying apart. Back when community transmission was lower, people were encouraged to meet up in person in a physically distanced way for social connection – sitting at an outdoor café or in a park, walking through ravines or hanging out in a backyard. Be cautious and check the public health guidelines where you live before you make plans.

Mind the gap

Practising physical distancing is key. While public health officials say not to worry about briefly passing someone on the sidewalk, your goal should still be to keep at least two metres apart from anyone you don’t live with – whether you’re shopping for groceries or riding the TTC. Do what you can to avoid crowds and limit shopping or other outings to times when fewer people are around. This isn’t just for your safety – you’re also protecting others given that some people can be infected, but asymptomatic. Just because you look and feel fine doesn’t mean you aren’t carrying and spreading the virus.

Wear a mask

Don’t leave home without a non-medical mask. Wear a mask indoors anywhere you might encounter people who are not part of your household – the hardware store, the subway, streetcar, bus, grocery store or workplace. It’s also a good idea to wear a mask outdoors if you’re unlikely to be able to practise physical distancing.

In the early days of the pandemic, we were told to wear masks to protect others (“My mask protects you, your mask protects me”) but recent research suggests wearing a mask can also reduce the risks to the wearer. Experts now say that a three-ply mask is best, but if you invested in a two-ply mask that you love, don’t toss it aside – you can combine it with another layer. And, as we all know by now, the mask goes over the nose as well as the mouth.

Wash your hands

With the return of colder weather and dry air indoors, you may want to keep hand lotion or moisturizer beside the sink– because the basic public health advice to wash your hands isn’t going away any time soon. Use soap, lather up for at least 20 seconds or long enough to sing yourself whatever tune you like, and know that this simple step is helping to reduce the risk to everyone in your household. For times when you may not have access to soap and water, carry hand sanitizer. And even though you’re cleaning your hands, avoid touching your face.

Check in

If you haven’t already downloaded the federal government’s COVID-19 app, now is a good time to do so. For students, staff, faculty and librarians who may need to visit campus over the break, remember to complete a self-assessment before you leave home, using UCheck or a paper-based tool. Students who are staying on campus over the break should fill out a self-assessment every day.

With the world still learning how to live with this new virus, there remains much uncertainty ahead. Yet, by following a few simple precautions, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a happy – and healthy – holiday season.

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