Safe holidays are all about being prepared

Dear Doctors: My husband and I are hosting a family holiday party this year. It will include one set of grandparents, our three adult children and the grandchildren. Everyone except the youngest is vaccinated. What can we do to make sure everyone stays safe?

Dear Reader: Larger holiday gatherings can be a challenge. The kitchen is always in action, holiday decor is on display, and people from multiple households are mingling. Add in the spirited antics of a group of children over the course of a long day, and you’re wise to be planning ahead.

This year, the ongoing pandemic makes things even more complicated. It’s important to realize there are no guarantees of safety with indoor gatherings. It becomes a question of how much risk each of us is willing bear.

While it’s good news that everyone in your household has been vaccinated, it’s still important to remain vigilant. Consider starting the day with rapid antigen tests for your attendees. These are now available for at-home use, and they can be found at local pharmacies. If the weather is mild enough, take as much of the celebration as possible outdoors. While indoors, keeping the windows partially open and using fans to circulate the fresh air helps with ventilation. Those who are most vulnerable, whether due to age or illness, should wear their masks as much as possible indoors.

The coronavirus isn’t the only challenge during the holidays. Decor, such as tinsel, small ornaments and ornament hooks, can be a potential choking hazard for young children. Some older tinsel is lead-based, and artificial snow can be an irritant to the lungs. With little kids around, swap lighted candles for the LED variety. Several of the plants that make an appearance during the holidays can be tempting -- and toxic. This includes the bright red berries on bittersweet and holly, and the leaves on mistletoe, amaryllis and daffodils. Poinsettia leaves can cause skin irritation and, if ingested, may cause nausea or vomiting.

Elizabeth Ko, MD and Eve Glazier, MD

The holiday kitchen is also a challenging environment. This includes the risk of kitchen fires, knife wounds, unhygienic handling of raw meat and keeping cooked food at safe temperatures. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand, and that you and your husband know how to use it. Remind kitchen helpers to wash their hands, utensils and work areas, and to avoid cross-contamination when working with raw meat. Cooked food should be put back in the fridge within two hours. Temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees are the sweet spot for bacteria, which can double in numbers in as little as 20 minutes.

If anyone in your party has serious food or other allergies, remind them to bring an EpiPen or other auto-injector of ephedrine. On your end, it’s a good idea to have your first-aid kit stocked and easily accessible. If something does go awry and someone needs professional medical care, call 911. The EMTs will be able to begin life-saving procedures as soon as they arrive.

This may all sound daunting, but being aware and prepared gives you the breathing room to relax and enjoy the celebration.

To learn more about the vaccines and for the latest information visit UCLA Health's COVID-19 Vaccine Info Hub.

(Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)


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