The year 2020 has certainly been different, what with the COVID-19 global pandemic changing our lives and our lifestyles. Who would have thought, earlier in the year, that this novel virus would claim so many lives and cripple the whole world for its duration, and perhaps well into 2021? Here we are now in the final month of 2020, anticipating the most awaited holiday season… yet COVID-19 is still very much a big threat to our society.
One wonders, how do we celebrate Christmas during these COVID-19 times?
The usually big and noisy celebrations of Christmas past may not happen, but small and simple celebrations can still be made merry! The Healthcare Professionals Alliance against COVID-19 (HPAAC), a coalition of more than 160 medical professional organizations to combat COVID-19 has initiated “Celebrating a Safe Christmas,” which enables the public to have safe merriment this holiday season in spite of the presence of the virus.
While the cases of COVID-19 have seemingly gone down sometime during September and October, the typhoons and evacuations in November may very well cause an upsurge of cases, possibly reaching the Christmas holidays.
Reminders for preventive measures should be reiterated, and this is where HPAAC’s APAT Dapat campaign comes in. What is this APAT Dapat campaign anyway?
• A is for Air Circulation — meeting or dining in outdoor and open-air restaurants, gardens or parks;
• P is for Physical Distancing — maintaining distancing of at least one meter may give at least 80% infection reduction;
• A is for Always Wear Mask and Face Shield properly, which, when combined with Physical Distancing may give 99% risk reduction; and,
• T is for Thirty minutes or less interaction — the shorter time, the better.
As much as possible, these four interventions ought to be followed, but if it’s truly impossible to have all four, then at least have three out of the four.
So, how can we apply this APAT Dapat campaign to make our Christmas holiday season truly safe and merry?
We should choose outdoor markets or establishments with good ventilation over small, enclosed and crowded stores. Of course, proper wearing of masks and face shields is now a requirement for entry into shopping malls. With careful planning of our shopping schedule, we can avoid times when stores are overcrowded. If we have a shopping list before even going to the market or mall, then our time at the shopping area is lessened, and even queuing will not be a problem.
Bear in mind, that the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) have both strongly recommended that minors should remain at home to lessen their risk of infection and decrease viral transmission. The Mayors of Metro Manila have agreed NOT to allow minors entry to malls so we must not insist on bringing our children to the malls.
For gift giving, perhaps we should consider homemade crafts and food, or checking out our own stash of white elephants that have never been used and just kept in storage, or sharing previously loved items which are still in good condition. But perhaps the best thing when it comes to holiday shopping for groceries and other items is to just shop online. There are now many delivery couriers that do cashless transactions and contactless deliveries, some even have discounts and cash rebates. Safest thing to do really!
FOR HOME VISITS OR GATHERINGS
What is a Pinoy Christmas without reunions? Sadly, big clan reunions will not be a thing this Christmas. Celebrations are best to be done at home, preferably just limited to the immediate household. If we live with the older relatives, some other family members who do not live with us would want to visit them, making meeting up unavoidable. Still, we ought to limit the gathering to just a small number, best held outdoors in the garden or in a park, while still wearing a mask and face shield and keeping a safe distance. The shorter the time spent together, the better.
If the gathering is to be done in a business establishment, it is best if it is held in an outdoor cafe and with a limited number of attendees. While dining, masks and face shields will be down, so it is best to keep talking to a minimum until the eating is over and masks and face shields can be worn once again. Talking loudly, laughing out loud, and even singing are not advisable during these COVID-19 times as air particle transmission is highest for those activities. Alcohol intake is not a good idea either as it may lead to rowdy and boisterous behavior that may make one lose inhibitions.
Since school is done online and most work is still done from home, travel ought to be done only when essential. Now that we are no longer in complete lockdown, our streets are getting heavy with traffic again. When traveling, whether in public or private vehicles, it would still be wise to maintain a safe distance, to continue wearing masks and face shields, to open windows in an air-conditioned vehicle, and just try to keep the travel time as short as possible, although this last one is not really under our control as travel can take as long as two to three hours within the Metro.
In anything we do, we must always PLAN AHEAD as we should always weigh the risks versus benefits of going out, particularly for the following groups: seniors, frontliners, travelers from other countries or provinces, and unknown people.
Christmas definitely cannot be canceled, but Christmas 2020 will certainly be a very unique one. Perhaps this quarantine holiday season serves as a reminder of the simplicity and stillness of the First Christmas when Baby Jesus was born, emphasizing the intimacy of family love, appreciating the blessings we have, and sharing with the less fortunate, especially those who have been affected by the recent typhoons and floods.
Each decision we make should be of our own accountability and responsibility. The virus is still out there so the threat remains. We need to be vigilant and selfless, thinking of how our actions and attitudes will affect others. Hence, we should always try to follow these APAT Dapat Preventive Measures. Our gift to others this Christmas is to plan how we can keep everyone safe. Slowly and surely, this pandemic will fade and we will get through this together.
Yes, holiday celebrations will likely need to be different this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but with careful planning and the right attitude, this pandemic Christmas can still be a very merry and memorable one. Let us bear in mind that Christmas is not about the lights or the many gifts, nor should it be about eating and drinking. We truly ought to focus on Jesus as the reason for the season. As long as we share and spread the love with our family and others, happiness follows. May good health, joy and peace be with us all this holiday season.
Dr. Maria Carmela Agustin-Kasala is a member of the Communications Group of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance against COVID-19 (HPAAC). She is also the Chair of the Public Relations Committee of the Philippine Pediatric Society and the Immediate Past President of the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, both of which are proud member societies of the HPAAC.