Public health experts urging caution around Christmas to prevent surge in COVID-19 cases

Posted at 1:50 PM, Dec 16, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — It's often called the most wonderful time of the year. With Christmas just 10 days away, public health experts are urging families to be cautious around the holiday to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“If people interpret the vaccine being here as an opportunity to lower their guard, then, unfortunately, we’re going to see more sorrow and death, and those are all preventable,” said USF Health professor Dr. Marissa Levine.

Since the Thanksgiving holiday, we’ve recently seen an upward trend in COVID-19 cases in the Tampa Bay area.

Dr. Levine points to an increase in hospitalizations, too, though not as steep of an increase as what we saw this summer.

“This is happening with Christmas and New Year’s just around the corner, so all bets are off in terms of what happens after that,” said Levine. “That will really depend on what we do between now and the beginning of January.”

The CDC says celebrating the holiday virtually or with people you live with poses the lowest risk for spread. It says getting together with family and friends who don’t live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19.

If you are having a small gathering, the CDC suggests limiting the number of people, hosting outdoors rather than indoors, and having supplies like extra masks available. If inside, experts recommend opening windows and doors to increase ventilation.

“I would really push people to do everything possible to try to keep your distance, and if you can’t, wear your face coverings all the time that you’re not eating,” said Levine.

The CDC also says people who have COVID symptoms, are waiting on test results, or are at an increased risk of severe illness should not go to an in-person celebration.

If you travel, the CDC says testing does not eliminate all risk, but it can help make travel safer. Still, it says the safest thing to do is to stay home.

“I think the real message here is there’s hope. There’s lots of hope ahead. I’m hoping that we’re at the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the end does not mean we can let our guard down,” said Dr. Levine. “In fact, we’re probably going to have to really push to do physical distancing, face masks, and handwashing for a number of months into the future.”

This story was first reported by Mary O'Connell at WFTS in Tampa Bay, Florida.