SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – With days to go before New Year’s celebrations, and facing a public weary and fatigued after months of repeated lockdowns, some health experts are adjusting their messaging, and offering tips for individuals who choose to gather outside their household during the final holiday of 2020.
“I think it’s a misconception that by telling people how to do things safely that you’re encouraging them to do it,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, Professor of Medicine, Associate Division Chief of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF.
On Sunday, December 27, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported nearly 1.3 million travelers passed through the nation’s airports, the highest single day total for 2020, bringing the 10-day total to more than 9.2 million passengers. This comes despite the CDC’s recommendation to postpone travel and stay home.
In California, infections rose steadily after the July 4 holiday weekend, and then spiked sharply again in the weeks following Thanksgiving, leading to the state’s current lockdown orders.
Dr. Gandhi has been making the argument for a “harm reduction” approach, versus abstinence, recognizing that people will continue to socialize outside their households, despite repeated warnings from health officials not to do so.
“So it’s acknowledging the reality of the situation that some people are going to gather and saying, ‘I prefer you not to gather. But if you’re going to, let me tell you how to do it safely’. And that’s what harm reduction means,” said Gandhi.
Gandhi said for those who choose to gather this weekend, remember to wear a mask, hold the event outdoors if possible, space apart as far as possible, minimize the number of invitees, sanitize your hands, post signage reminding guests of health protocols. If the event is held indoors, open doors and windows to increase ventilation.
“It’s not zero risk. And that’s why the message should be, try not to gather. It’s one more holiday. We’re getting to the vaccine,” said Gandhi.
Justin Lessler, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, urged caution to New Year’s Eve revelers.
“If you decide to get together, please do something to mitigate the risk,” said Lessler, who added that designating separate beverage stations could help reduce mingling of different households.
“Once you’ve decided to have the get-together, you’re going to have some risk there, regardless,” said Lessler. “It does have consequences. We can debate whether the consequences are worth it. But the consequences are there.”
Dr. David Dowdy, Associate Professor and investigator of infectious disease epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, acknowledged the challenges of issuing stay-at-home orders, and withholding judgment against those who choose to go against the orders.
“We need to do that in a way where people don’t feel shamed to do that. Because we know that when when that’s the message people get, that you should not do this and it’s shameful, it just causes people to go underground and do it without telling anyone, which many times makes it worse,” said Dowdy.
Becky Darnelle and Amado Lepe, graphic designers working in San Jose, are choosing to stay home this New Year’s.
“Right now, I’m just planning to hang out with the family and stay inside,” said Darnelle.
“I think everybody’s judging everyone right now. Doesn’t matter what you do, you’re doing something wrong in somebody’s eyes,” said Lepe.