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There is no skating away from the COVID pandemic for Christmas

There is no skating away from the COVID pandemic for Christmas

Dec. 22, 2020

By Mary Wade Burnside

Joni Mitchell sang it best in her melancholy Christmas-themed song, “River.”

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on.

Of course, Mitchell was singing about a broken relationship. These days, many of might wish to skate away for other reasons: the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to get away from home for a bit and to see relatives.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 didn’t take into account that the end-of-the-year holidays have arrived. Instead, on Tuesday, West Virginia reported a record 42 deaths. Nine of those who died from COVID-19 lived in Monongalia County; six of them in neighboring Preston County.

The country, the state and the county are experiencing the longest surge of the pandemic. Cases have been on the rise since October, and Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations did not help.

Monongalia County currently has 1,600 active COVID cases. That’s a little more than a third of all cases reported in Monongalia County — 4,778 — since March.

Knowing that, we are now faced with Christmas’ arrival on Friday. And reportedly, air travel this past weekend broke previous records.

Even though some Americans began receiving COVID-19 vaccines last week, it’s still a small percentage of the population. (You can keep track of vaccine administration in West Virginia via the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVid-19 dashboard.

Plus, those individuals will not experience the full protection the vaccine offers until weeks after the second doses are administered in January.

So in spite of the vaccine, it appears that the pandemic going to get worse before it gets better.

But whatever your plans may be, there is still time to mitigate the situation and take as many precautions as possible.

Of course, the best-case scenario is to stay home and celebrate Christmas within your own household bubble.

But if you do attend a small gathering, here are tips to make it safer, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

• Have conversations with the host ahead of time to understand expectations for celebrating together.
• Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, utensils and condiment packets.
• Wear a mask indoors and outdoors.
• Avoid shouting or singing.
• Avoid eating near others who are not a part of your household bubble.
• Stay home if you are sick or have been near someone who thinks they may have or have been exposed to COVID-19.
• It’s OK if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others. 

Here are some other things to consider:

• In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
• If you decide to engage in public activities, continue to protect yourself by practicing everyday preventive actions.
• Keep these items on hand when venturing out: a mask, tissues and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

We know it’s sad not to see relatives during the holidays. One year, I had the flu during what ended up being my father’s next-to-last Christmas and so I stayed home to avoid infecting him. This year, I’ll be opening gifts on Zoom with my 85-year-old mother. It’s sad, but I’m glad to help keep her safe — and that the technology has improved in recent years to provide this option.

In one week, we will be staring down the end of 2020. It’s a year many are happy to leave behind. The new vaccines provide hope for a light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s only a light, and the days are still dark. So we must still take precautions for now.

Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer for Monongalia County Health Department.

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