It’s going to be an interesting holiday season this year, to say the least. We’ve been in this pandemic since March and have already made a lot of sacrifices in our daily lives and to our pocketbooks. We’ve missed once-in-a lifetime events — and much more.
Across Northeastern Minnesota, COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to rise at a concerning rate. In St. Louis County, 40% of the total hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have occurred in November. Think about that: In the last eight months, 40% of the cases requiring hospitalization have occurred in just the last few weeks.
Transmission is widespread and increasing rapidly across our communities. We all have ownership of public health in this pandemic, and we all should realize how serious the situation is when we hear hospitals warn that they are nearing capacity.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s orders this week restricting social gatherings with individuals outside of a household mean we all should be thinking differently about how to celebrate the holidays during COVID-19. Hosting gatherings and inviting over friends and extended family are not permitted right now. Instead, consider new traditions that are possible to share remotely and allow a pause for in-person traditions for now. Celebrate festivities with your immediate household and join extended family and friends virtually or by phone.
Out-of-state travel is currently not advised. If you do decide to travel, make a plan to limit your risk while you are en route and upon your arrival. This should include limiting rest stops if you are driving, and researching community transmission rates. Consider getting tested before you go. If you are staying for an extended period of time, consider testing again when you return home and quarantine your household for two weeks upon return.
A COVID-19 test will tell you whether you have the virus on the day you get tested. It won’t reveal whether you have the virus the next day or the day after that. Continue to be vigilant about monitoring your own and your family’s health, watching for signs and symptoms of respiratory illness. If you have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, stay home and away from others for 14 days. Limiting community transmission is a responsibility that we each carry.
Take care of your mental and physical health in these challenging times. Even in normal circumstances, the holiday season can bring added stress. Now more than ever, find ways to get fresh air and exercise. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and eating and drinking in a healthy way. Attending to your physical health is beneficial to your mental health and vice versa. These are things we all can do.
This holiday season will be anything but normal. Regardless of your risk status or age, I urge you to follow the governor’s orders and spend the upcoming holiday with your immediate household only. The place that presents the lowest risk for you, your family, and your community during this pandemic, right now, is home.
As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I want to express my thanks to all of you who are health care or care providers, all of my colleagues in public health, our critical infrastructure workers, and everyone on the front lines. Much is being asked of us, and I am thankful for all that you do.
Amy Westbrook is the St. Louis County Public Health Division director. She wrote this for the News Tribune.