Whatcom County Health Department guidelines for Covid-19 safe holidays

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With the rate of new Covid-19 infections increasing in Whatcom County and the holiday season approaching, the Whatcom County Health Department released some new guidance for holiday gatherings in a November 9 press release.

Above all, the health department recommends gatherings be kept small. Ideally celebrations would include only members of the same household.

“Staying home with just your own household is the safest way to celebrate,” said Erika Lautenbach, health department director, in the news release. “But there are ways to enjoy the season and perhaps launch some new
traditions.”

Having small dinners, making traditional family recipes and delivering food to neighbors are some more safe options in the health department’s press release.

For those who do plan to gather with family or people from outside the household, the health department recommends the following:

• Limit the total number of guests and be mindful of
children.

• Ask guests to fully quarantine or limit social interactions for 14 days prior to the holiday gathering.

• Let guests know what to expect and encourage them to wear a mask and spread out.

• Ask guests to take their temperature before arriving and to remain home if they have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms.

• Have a plan for food and let guests know ahead of time (for instance, it’s safest if guests bring their own food. If they want to share, have individual servings and utensils).

• Clean thoroughly before and after.

The health department also recommends that people who plan to travel monitor the status of Covid-19 at their destination, in addition to avoiding close contact with others, wearing a mask and frequently washing hands. Those traveling should also consider quarantining for up to two weeks after returning home, the health department said.

New Covid-19 cases tend to increase after holidays and on November 9, nine days after Halloween, case counts were on the rise, Lautenbach said in a press briefing.

“We know we have at least 20 new cases today alone,” she said. “We’re hoping that this isn’t part of a fall surge, but increasing case counts have certainly been a trend around the state and the country.”

The rate of new Covid-19 cases increased throughout much of Washington state throughout October, but Whatcom County’s rate of new cases remained relatively stable last month, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health. New cases in Whatcom County began increasing around November 1.   

Currently, more than half of people testing positive for Covid-19 seem to be catching it from other people in their household and about 28 percent of new cases are exposed to the virus at a social gathering, Lautenbach said. About one in three new cases comes from an exposure outside the county.

“It’s just an important reminder that as we travel to other places and as we visit family the virus can cross borders with us,” she said.

Across the state, Covid-19 is spreading rapidly, the Washington State Department of Health said in a November 10 press release. The agency estimates that Covid-19 currently has a reproductive number of 1.3 in Western Washington, meaning that each Covid-19 patient infects an average of 1.3 people, and 1.4 in eastern Washington. That number must be less than one to slow the spread.

The state Department of Health recommends that people who want to visit family for Thanksgiving limit themselves to only the most essential activities now and “essentially quarantine for two weeks before even a small outdoor gathering.”

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