The Pan-American Health Organisation is urging countries in the Americas to limit mass gatherings during the holiday season.
Assistant director Dr Jarbas Barbosa da Silva Jr., said individuals and families need to limit indoor gatherings and to not travel if possible.
Speaking at PAHO’s monthly media briefing, Barbosa said he understood the holiday season ushered in treasured traditions, but people still needed to be cautious.
“During the season, over a thousand cities in the region come to life with decorations, communities congregate to mark religious celebrations, and generations of families come together to give thanks. After months of staying at home, many of us are weighing difficult decisions about whether to see friends, gather with family, or travel to see loved ones during the holidays. However, there is no such thing as a risk-free holiday season during a pandemic.
“Every gathering, every shopping trip, every flight plan increases the risk of spreading the virus, so we urge everyone to weigh their options carefully and follow the guidance of national health authorities.”
He said communities across the region were grappling with choices about whether to host religious processions, holiday markets and church celebrations, but this was not the time to be hosting large mass gatherings.
“PAHO and WHO recommend that countries experiencing wide-spread transmission of the virus should seriously consider postponing or reducing mass gatherings. Each city and community should make the decision about hosting public events based on the latest available data, especially data that shows where the virus is spreading and where the health systems has enough capacity to keep up with cases. Regardless of location, religious services should look different this year, they should be held outdoors whenever possible or limited in size when it’s not.”
Barbosa said small indoor gatherings should similarly be limited in size with people wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“Indoor gatherings, even the smaller ones, can be especially risky because they bring together groups of people, young and old, from different households who may not all be adhering to the same infection prevention measures. Even though it may feel awkward to wear masks and practice social distancing around friends and family, doing so is the best way to ensure that everyone remains safe and healthy.”
“It can take a few days before diagnostic tests diagnose a covid19 infection, so if a test is done too soon, a person can test negative while still being infected and contagious to others, and because these tests are typically done a few days prior to travel, a traveller could still be exposed to the virus in the days leading to their departure.”
Barbosa said PAHO does not recommend relying on laboratory tests for travellers, but many countries throughout the region place testing at the heart of their travel policies.
“This cannot guarantee safe travel or eliminate the risks related to infected travellers. We are pleased to see that some countries are taking more common-sense measures such as using data about how the virus is spreading to continually reassess their travel guidance. To make travel safer, all countries should collectively work to prevent people with covid19 from travelling and are in isolation, as well as their contacts who are in isolation, and while it is important to monitor travellers for 14 days after arrival, travellers should not be placed under quarantine subject to movement restrictions.”
Barbosa said “The holidays should be no different. People are planning virtual dinners, broadcasting virtual celebrations, and opting for smaller ceremonies, even if it means making personal sacrifices. The individual decisions we make this holiday season won’t just affect the people closest to us, they will also impact our communities.”