By Dr. Nell Thomas

COVID-19 is not the gift you want to give or receive this Christmas.

Humans are adaptable creatures. Good thing, because a basic evolutionary principle is that without adaptation, a species will perish. It should be pretty simple to make a few changes from your traditional approach to the holidays. This is only one year, for heaven’s sake. Here are some guidelines and suggestions to keep you and your family safe.

High risk holiday activities to avoid:

• attending large gatherings with people from outside your household;

• going to crowded parades, community events, parties;

• shopping in crowded stores.

Recommended low or no-risk alternatives:

• shop online and have delivered;

• make the holidays about you and your immediate family, splurge on fancy treats for an intimate group, choose exactly the things you want to eat;

• find virtual substitutes for family holiday traditions, like Zoom or Skype cooking and meal-time;

• pick recipes to make “virtually together” and compare/compete for best finished product;

• select friends or neighbours to do secret Santa gift exchange and drop off presents in mailboxes, on front porches, or choose delivery if far away;

• form a virtual group to make gifts or food for those in need (contact the Food Bank, The Legion, Rotary, SIRCH, YWCA to find ways to share your gifts);

• order dinners from local restaurants (they need the support);

• divide up dinner menus with neighbours and safely deliver COVID dishes to each other to complete the meal plan.

Reduce risk if visiting:

If you are determined to visit individual family or friends, then do so with masks and with distancing, in large spaces, outdoors, and with testing done as close to the event time as possible, although a negative test is no guarantee because the test can fail to show the virus even when you are infected.

Travel in your own vehicle and avoid airports and train stations, if possible. Avoid crowds and choose places with good ventilation. Keep air circulating. Open windows. Wear a suitable mask properly at all times. Wash/alcohol your hands every time you to return to your vehicle. Wash/alcohol at gas stations, after you touch anything outside your vehicle. Avoid restaurants and indoor establishments, and if you don’t pack food from home then observe caution at fast food venues (food itself is not likely to have virus in/on it but the containers are higher risk).

Using masks, remaining touch-free and six feet apart at all times will reduce risk, but the only way to stop risk entirely is to stay home in your core family unit “bubble.” In other words, the only way to completely reduce risk of infection is to remain separated.

The New York Times asked readers what their Christmas plans were. My favorite is this one from a clever fellow in New York.

“Skipping it. No risk, no harm, no one gets sick, no one dies, no one grieves. Better apart than under. I respect and love my family enough to remain apart so that we are able to enjoy many more years of celebrations.” – Paul Marber, New York.

The government of Canada is advising no non-essential travel. There are sobering thoughts such as penalties if you are found in violation of Canada’s Quarantine Act or if you or someone chooses to break mandatory isolation.

Penalties can include six months in prison and/or $750,000 in fines. If you violate mandatory quarantine or isolation and your actions result in death or serious bodily harm to another person, fines can be $1 million and imprisonment up to three years or both.

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