The holiday season is typically hectic for families with young kids, and this year we continue to have the added stress of parenting during a pandemic. With the Delta variant and other COVID variants clouding over our holiday cheer, we spoke with Priya Soni, M.D., assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai, about ways we can try to keep our families safe as we celebrate the holidays.
What advice do you have for parents during this hectic time?
The No. 1 thing that parents and families can do to prepare for the upcoming holidays is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. This remains the No. 1 way to prevent transmission and to prevent older, more vulnerable immunocompromised grandparents from getting sick while we interact with one another.
In addition, families could consider obtaining rapid COVID-19 test kits (readily available over the counter via local pharmacies) to provide an additional layer of protection for all persons gathering. Best would be to take the test early in the morning and to isolate any family members right away as to avoid a cluster of cases amongst members of the family. We are lucky we live in L.A. and have the flexibility to keep some events and meals outdoors during the holidays, as our temperatures allow for this. I would suggest keeping some activities outdoors, if possible.
Lastly, always keep surgical masks handy. When interacting closely with or hugging elderly grandparents, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just wear a face mask for an added layer of protection.
What should parents know about traveling during the holidays?
Traveling during the holidays will always be a bit riskier than in other parts of the year given the sheer number of people from different parts of the country coming together during the travel process. My hope is that cases continue to decline, as they have been predicted to by many public health experts and virus modeling platforms. However, we should expect there to be a potential rise in cases during Thanksgiving or Christmas as people travel more and more during these times.
At this point in the pandemic, many are feeling that mask wearing is cumbersome and may be relaxing on their hygiene efforts. Adding an extra layer of protection by mandating vaccinations prior to travel may be an upcoming theme to watch for. At press time, at all ages, we only have 58% of our country vaccinated. The future of the pandemic and potential surges during the holidays depends on this number improving significantly.
Holiday shopping—what should we know? Should we take the kids to visit Santa? What’s relatively safe and what should we stay away from?
Much of the guidance on holiday shopping is still up in the air as we continue to navigate potential surges that may come. However, thankfully, so much of holiday shopping has shifted to online that we have a good alternative to risking exposures, if we need to. Each family’s propensity to exposing themselves to risk during these activities should be assessed on an individual level. If you’re immunocompromised, depending on local transmission rates, it may be wise to just stick to online shopping, if it means avoiding potential infection and being able to actually spend time with family.
The mental toll of parenting in a pandemic has been a lot for families. What advice do you have for parents to calm their own anxiety, as well as their kids’?
The mental toll of the pandemic has been enormous for families, especially those with young children who are anxiously awaiting a potential approval of the COVID-19 vaccine in the 5- to 11-year-old age group. Many are weighing the pros and cons of traveling without protection in children under 5 years old during the holidays, as the rollout for vaccines in this group is still very unpredictable.
The best advice I can give to parents struggling with the anxiety of this time in our life is to remember that our children are extremely resilient. If there’s one thing that I have learned through being a pediatrician and seeing kids combat and overcome infection after infection is that they are extremely resilient. This applies, in my opinion, not just toward physical ailments and infections, but with many of the changes that were thrown at them during this time. These tiny humans are some of our best teachers and remind me daily how essential adapting to change is necessary for our thriving. Many children will not remember the days of the early pandemic, and many have adapted to a new way of doing things for now.
We must all remember where we started and where we are now in the pandemic. We are not only seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in all this, but we are taking the lessons we learned during the dark periods and using this to adapt for the future. And that alone should be something to celebrate.