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Now that there are 3 COVID vaccines, don't take risks. Here’s how to celebrate Christmas safely

By MAAN D'ASIS PAMARAN Published Nov 05, 2020 7:44 am Updated Dec 02, 2020 1:17 am

With the coronavirus still actively circulating in many areas of the Philippines, are family reunions still possible this holiday season? The DOH says yes, but only if you and your loved ones strictly observe proper health protocols.

As part of its regular media briefings, the Department of Health (DOH) held an online discussion on Risk-Based Public Health Standards for Covid-19 Mitigation today, Nov. 11. Included in the discussion led by Rodley Desmond Daniel Carza of the Health Promotion Bureau were recommendations for safer Christmas celebrations in the country.

Reducing risks

He starts off with a picture of how the virus spreads. “Covid-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets such as saliva and respiratory secretions expelled when a person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings, Aerosols which are microscopic droplets that remain infectious when suspended in air over long distances and time, and Fomites or contaminated surfaces or objects.”

Make it a silent night. Avoid activities that involve talking, shouting, heavy breathing and singing as these increase the respiratory particles that individuals exhale.

Recent studies show that while it is not the most common, airborne transmission is also possible with conditions such as enclosed spaces, prolonged exposure to respiratory particles in activities that involve shouting, singing, and exercising which increase concentration of respiratory droplets, and inadequate ventilation or air handling. Carza would like to emphasize, though, that most infections are spread through close contact and not airborne transmission.

Risks are higher with three Cs , he adds. Even as restrictions are lifted, consider where you are going and stay safe by avoiding crowded places with many people nearby, close contact settings, especially where people have close-range conversations, and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.

How to party in a pandemic

Virtual gatherings with family and friends over the holidays.

The idea of celebrating the holidays with a big gathering may have to be put on hold, given with how the virus spreads.

On Nov. 24, infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana guested on ANC’s “Matters of Fact” and said, “We do urge people as much as possible not to mix households. Just do virtual Christmas if you can. Konti na lang. The vaccines are coming.” 

A member of DOH’s technical advisory group and director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at UP Manila, Salvana reminded viewers, “What drives the virus is close contact in poorly ventilated settings.” 

In a Facebook post, he urged people to be patient now that the world has three working vaccines (from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca). “The end of this pandemic is no longer a question of IF, but WHEN. The BIGGEST question is IF you and your loved ones will survive to see the end of the line for COVID-19.

“Staying home, wearing a mask + face shield, and physical distancing will increase your chances of being alive to get the vaccine when it becomes available. Don't be a late casualty of this war. Don't die of a vaccine-preventable disease when victory is in sight. That may yet be the most tragic outcome if we become complacent. Millions of lives are at stake, including your own. It isn't safe yet, but it will be very soon. Keep the faith and keep those masks on!”

Here are guidelines from the DOH:

1. Be picky with the invitees. Studies have shown that people who are most vulnerable are the elderly (60 years of age and older), persons with pre-existing medical conditions (heart/lung disease, diabetes, asthma, etc.), persons who smoke, women with high-risk pregnancies (aged 17 or younger, 30 or older, those with pre-existing conditions). Limit the number of people in social gatherings and activities, preferably people within the same household.

2. Stay localized. Avoid activities that require travel to areas with higher quarantine classification. Keep activities as short as possible.

3. Make it a silent night. Avoid activities that involve talking, shouting, heavy breathing and singing as these increase the respiratory particles that individuals exhale and as such increase the risk of infection as well Evidence suggests that speaking in a loud voice releases 50 times more particle than we are silent.

Shopping online carries lower risks than physical shopping.

4. Ensure cleanliness and proper ventilation at the venue. When at a gathering, avoid touching high-touch surfaces.

5. Don’t be a spreader. If sick, stay at home and avoid social gatherings. A primary care or telemedicine provider or BHERT must be consulted if an individual is a suspect case or a family member has contracted COVID-19.

6. Practice self-care. Eat healthy, increase physical and mental resilience, and prevent illness and injury.

7. Always be a BIDA. It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to practice the minimum health standards in order to Beat Covid. Remember: B—Bawal walang mask; I—I-sanitize ang mga kamay; D—Dumistansya ng isang metro; and A—Alamin ang totoong impormasyon.

Keeping with tradition

Here's a guide to mitigate risk levels during popular Christmas activities that are part and parcel of the holiday celebrations.