We asked Michael Koster, MD, division director of pediatric infectious diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Leonard A. Mermel, DO, medical director of the Lifespan department of epidemiology and infection control, for some advice on how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe during the holiday season.

Make Sure Everyone is Up to Date with Vaccinations

All household members should be up to date with vaccinations, including boosters. When children are sick, they should stay home from school to prevent the spread of viruses. Consider using masks in large groups of people in indoor public spaces, which will reduce the risk of bringing home viruses to your family and loved ones.

Consider Masking at Home with Vulnerable Family Members

Indoor family gatherings increase the risk of respiratory viral transmission (flu, COVID, RSV, and others). You may consider masking around particularly vulnerable family members. During all such occasions, improve the air exchange by opening windows, when the weather permits. If it’s too cold or wet, turn on the fan in your home heating/air-conditioning system.

Advanced air filtration systems can help as well. Check to see if you can use a MERV-13 filter in your heating/air-conditioning system. If not, consider using a portable HEPA filter in the room, particularly when masks are removed while eating or drinking, and around grandparents or those who have suppressed immune systems from their medications or underlying disease.

Mask Up in Crowded Community Settings

Masking will reduce the risk of spreading COVID to others or becoming infected with COVID yourself. Use at least a medical-grade mask with a mask extender (which extends around the back of the head to improve mask fit). In crowded indoor settings, particularly if you are spending a longer period of time (such as attending a play, concert or religious service), wear an N95 or KN95 mask.

Face masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2. For children over the age of 2, help them understand how face masks can help keep themselves and others safe.

Stay Home if You Feel Sick

Staying away from social gatherings is no fun, but even if you just have the sniffles, stay home. Additionally, a pragmatic intervention to consider is to ask everyone to do a rapid COVID test prior to attending the holiday gathering. For example, if the gathering is at noon, everyone should test themselves that morning. Note that in an asymptomatic person, a negative test does not rule out COVID, and a positive test can be a false positive result. Nevertheless, if the rapid test is positive, do not attend the gathering.

Consider the Venue for Caroling

We can spread COVID just by breathing or talking around others. However, more respiratory viral particles are expelled from the mouth and nose when singing as compared to talking. If an event includes caroling, hold it outdoors, which will reduce the risk of respiratory viral spread.

From everyone at Lifespan, we hope you and your loved ones enjoy a safe and healthy holiday season. Visit the Lifespan Living blog for more health and wellness tips.

Michael P. Koster, MD, and Leonard A. Mermel, DO

Dr. Michael P. Koster is director of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital

Dr. Leonard A. Mermel is medical director of the department of epidemiology and infection control at Lifespan.