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Commentary: Nurses’ orders — How to stay healthy for the holidays

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurses look on during coronavirus testing outside the Salt Lake County Health Department, Oct. 23,, in Salt Lake City.

As the year-end holiday season begins, we’re still treating patients and managing consequences of a coronavirus surge that followed Halloween. Those of us working the front lines, especially in emergency rooms and intensive care units, must now mentally prepare ourselves for a Thanksgiving surge, which may peak around gatherings for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other observances.
Many of us will not be with our immediate families on Thanksgiving Day either, because we’ll be on duty caring for patients or taking precautions in case we’ve been exposed to the coronavirus. We understand the value of self-quarantine. We are sacrificing time with extended family to ensure we stay healthy and remain able to care for our community.
The vast majority of nurses and other providers are doing their best to handle exhaustion and high levels of stress. With the rate of COVID-19 positivity continually rising, in addition to patients, we are taking care of our own team members and their families.
You may have already heard words of caution about avoiding virus infection in the holiday time ahead. But maybe you have not heard directly from those of us working the pandemic’s front lines for the past eight months. Here’s what we want you to know about staying safe in the holiday season. It’s based on treating hundreds of coronavirus patients and witnessing, firsthand, dramatically rising transmission rates in Utah.
1. Stay within the smallest possible bubble, which is defined as those who live and sleep in the same home. There are suggested precautions for family members who have been away from home, such as those off at college. The safest way to bring them back is for them to take a COVID-19 test a few days before traveling and to be very careful about interpersonal contact on their way home.
2. Don’t gather with a large group of people. If any are from outside your bubble, wear masks — even outdoors. At mealtime, when masks come off, segregating households to different tables or separate rooms will reduce the risk of passing on the virus. Once you’re done eating, it’s time to put your mask back on.
3. Limit your time together. If you feel you must attend an indoor gathering, plan on being there for a limited amount of time. Less time means less opportunity for exposure. Avoid the temptation to linger all evening. When people are together for long periods in an enclosed room, escaped aerosols can build up to high enough concentrations that masks no longer provide adequate protection on their own.
4. Virtual and outdoor get-togethers are the best ways to avoid spread of COVID-19. The coronavirus transmits through small droplets that remain suspended in the air for minutes or hours. Smaller droplets, as in aerosols, are more of an issue in enclosed spaces, where they can accumulate over time and air currents move them to different parts of the room. Shouting, singing or breathing heavily from exertion launches more particles into the air than talking, boosting aerosol concentrations more quickly.
5. Washing hands, keeping 6 feet apart and cleaning surfaces are always important.

Spending time with family and friends during the holidays is an important tradition and a factor in maintaining good health. In 2020, optimal health involves protecting yourself and your loved ones from exposure to the coronavirus. Be creative. Think of a new way to stay connected with friends and family. They may last a lifetime.

Katie Flores

Katie Flores, RN, MSN, is chief nursing officer, Mountain Point Medical Center, Steward Medical Group.

Tracey Nixon

Tracey Nixon, BSN, MSN, is chief nursing officer, University of Utah Health.

Sue Robel

Sue Robel, RN BSN, MHA, NEA-BC, CPXP, SVP, is clinical operations and chief nursing executive, Intermountain Healthcare.

Jen Wagenaar

Jen Wagenaar, MBA, RN, CPHQ, FACHE, CENP, is chief nursing executive, MountainStar MCA Healthcare.
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