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Last updateMon, 18 Jan 2021 7pm

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Health Experts Advise Against Travel and Large Gatherings this Holiday Season

Health Experts It’s still the most wonder­ful time of the year for many, even during a global pan­demic. However, this might not be the year for the large family gatherings and travel­ing typically associated with the holidays.

As the Centers for Dis­ease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on their website, cases rise as people spend more time gathering indoors due to the cold weather. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order, ef­fective Nov. 17, lowering the indoor gathering limit from 25 to 10 people as COVID-19 cases rise in the state.

3Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told USA Today, “As we get into the colder weather, we should re­ally think twice about these kind of dinner parties where you're not sure of whether the people that are in your bubble (are safe). Then you're going to start seeing these unanticipated infections related to innocent home gatherings, particularly as we head into the holiday season.”

Nikki Ortt, a senior English student, is one of many stu­dents avoiding large family get-togethers during this untra­ditional holiday season. “I’m just celebrating with my imme­diate family in my household,” she said. “This year due to CO­VID, we aren’t going through with our Christmas Eve tradi­tion in person…I don’t think my grandma will be celebrat­ing with us this year.”

“On a normal year, my house will be filled usually with at least 15 people, but this year only five,” said senior English student, Hunter’Rose Kruse, who is only celebrating with her family that lives at home.

Students like Ortt and Kruse have had to find creative new ways of staying connected with extended family. “We are going to do Secret Santa via Zoom and have the presents dropped off at the houses se­cretly and open the presents on Zoom,” Ortt said.

Specialist Professor of Nurs­ing, Patricia Dempsey, also recommends virtual holiday celebrations. She said, “Winter break has traditionally been a time to visit friends and fam­ily. This year, instead of gath­ering inside houses, consider meeting friends and loved ones over Zoom or FaceTime. Social distance as much as possible. An elbow bump instead of a hug means, ‘I care about your safety.’”

While some students are avoiding gatherings alto­gether, others are limiting who they see during the holidays. “My mom’s fam­ily is super small (eight people), so we are having a normal Christmas,” said Shannon McGorty, a senior English and communica­tion student. “But my dad’s family is not having Christ­mas.”

Traveling is also a con­cern as winter break ap­proaches, especially for out of state students. Thanks­giving travel rates hit a new high of over 100,000 people in one day, accord­ing to TSA checkpoint travel numbers from tsa. gov, a trend many are wor­ried will continue into the holiday season.

“The NJ governor has is­sued a travel advisory to avoid essential travel,” said Kathy Maloney, Director of Health Services. “If travel is unavoidable, it is recom­mended that persons get CO­VID tested before and after travel.”

Maloney urges students to follow CDC and state guide­lines on safe traveling. Spe­cifically, travelers should consider getting tested one to three days before the trip and three to five days after the trip, according to nj.com, the official site of the state of New Jersey. “If travelers test positive, they should self-isolate for at least 10 days and should postpone travel during that time. If travel­ers test negative, they should quarantine for a full seven days after travel,” the web­site states.

 Maloney recommends maintaining the same safety guidelines this holiday sea­son that the public has been expected to follow since the beginning of the pandemic in March—wearing a mask, washing your hands, and avoiding social gatherings. She also recommends get­ting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet, getting exer­cise, engaging in stress-re­lieving activities, and get­ting a flu vaccine. In fact, the CDC urges the public to receive a flu shot before traveling.

“If someone is positive for COVID, they will be­come more susceptible to contracting influenza,” said Maloney. “The reverse is also true. If someone has influenza, they can become more vulnerable to COV­ID. In addition, it is possi­ble for people to have both viruses concurrently. That would amount to a tremen­dous attack on the person’s immune system increasing the probability of the indi­vidual becoming gravely ill.”

If travel is avoidable, staying inside and spend­ing the holidays with only immediate family members comes with the lowest risk of spreading and contract­ing the virus, based on ad­vice from health experts. Students are still finding ways to stay connected with family even if they cannot see them in person, whether it’s a virtual dinner or a virtual Secret Santa.

PHOTOS TAKEN by Melissa Badamo

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