Building your holiday bubble

Holidays usually mean family time, but how to make this happen in the COVID-19 era? Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs and head of Baylor’s pandemic Incident Command Center, thinks he has a way, following the lesson of the successful NBA bubble.

“Forming an effective bubble requires planning, commitment and attention to detail,” McDeavitt said.

He lays out his plan in a series of time-based steps, with two caveats that all families need to consider.

First, assess your own risk tolerance. The only way to remain completely safe is to remain maximally isolated. If you are elderly, immunosuppressed or have a serious underlying medical condition, you need to weigh the risks of holiday celebrations against the potential benefits. Creating a holiday bubble will help to minimize those risks, but cannot eliminate them.

Second, creating a holiday bubble is possible, but it will not occur without real commitment of all participants. If everyone is not committed, you are probably better off celebrating exclusively with members of your usual household, and not mixing with family and friends from down the street, or across the country.

With those disclaimers in mind, now you’re ready to start your bubble-planning.

Today

  • Get your flu shot to support a healthy immune system.
  • Have a serious family conversation about who is at high medical risk, who will take the precautions seriously and who will commit to the regulations. If your risk tolerance is low, even a bubble may be too risky.
  • Have everyone follow the Holiday Bubble Checklist and name a person to remind the group to do so periodically.
  • Agree on a location for holiday gatherings, such as a private home where you know the owner has followed safety precautions.

Two weeks prior to holiday

  • Everyone planning to enter the holiday bubble must make extra effort to limit contact with other individuals, such as working from home if possible and rigorous self-quarantining.
  • Add a plastic face shield or goggles to your cloth mask when you are indoors and in contact with others.
  • Conduct daily symptom and temperature monitoring. If you become symptomatic or have any fever (even low grade), reach out to your physician and be tested with a PCR test (not a rapid test). If your test is positive, cancel your participation in the bubble, along with all others who live in your household.
  • Decide who will be the cook and stock up on non-perishable ingredients in advance. Use a grocery service with touchless delivery to maintain your quarantine status.
  • If you are traveling to your destination, check travel restrictions such as quarantine requirements to be prepared.

5-7 days prior to holiday

  • Get a PCR test. If positive, cancel your participation in the bubble, along with all others who live in your household.
  • Stock up on hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes for travel as well as face shields or goggles to wear in addition to masks.
  • Complete your food shopping using touchless delivery.
  • Recheck travel restrictions.

Travel day(s)

Driving

  • A road trip should preferably be made in a single day.
  • Bring your own travel snacks to avoid stops.
  • Mask, physically distance and sanitize hands if you must leave your car. Consider adding a plastic face shield in addition to a cloth mask.

Flying

  • Wear a cloth mask, face shield or goggles at all times. You may consider using a well fitted N95 (in place of the cloth mask) if available. Important: the face shield or goggles are in addition to, not in the place of, a mask.
  • Skip snacks and drinks.
  • Use the restroom prior to boarding to avoid using the airplane lavatory. If you must use the lavatory, keep your mask on, and wash your hands thoroughly.

During the holiday

  • If you are confident everyone has followed the guidelines, you are relatively safe in your bubble.
  • For high-risk family members (elderly, immunosuppressed) it is recommended to continue to follow good masking, hand hygiene and distancing practices.
  • “Enjoy your fellowship with bubble-compliant friends and family. After all your hard work, planning and preparation, you can relax and enjoy the holiday,” McDeavitt added.

If you are not able to adhere to this level of commitment, McDeavitt said, consider a well-spaced, masked event out-of-doors or remote video options.