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Answer this Holiday Season’s Most Pressing Questions & Help Keep Your Family Safe Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic with Guidance from Top Doc Physician


As the winter holiday season quickly approaches, many families are struggling to decide what to do about the upcoming holidays. 2020 has dealt us quite a hand with more challenges than any one of us could have expected. We at Crystal Run Healthcare recognize the very real challenges our patients, staff and community members are facing. We want to stress the importance of celebrating the holidays safely, while at the same time recognizing that for many of us, Thanksgiving and the group of holidays that follow are likely to be some of the strangest celebrations that we, as Americans may experience. After all, we are a nation that prides itself on observing tradition (who’s not fond of the Thanksgiving parade, turkey, mashed potatoes, family gatherings and football) --- but the reality is we may all find ourselves in uncharted territory as we redefine what is do-able, healthy and safe for ourselves and our dearest family members this year.

There are many challenges to getting through this season, but thankfully experts have been generous with tips and guidelines for us to follow. Advice abounds, but all of us are being forced to evaluate our priorities, look at our unique situations, and balance our willingness to accept risk and our need to promote safety.

At Crystal Run Healthcare, we’re continuing to test for the coronavirus and providing care to patients that have been diagnosed with the virus. As community spread increases and colder weather brings us indoors, here’s my best advice as a local physician to help you navigate some of the toughest questions this holiday season.

My loved ones are far away, how safe is it for me to travel to visit them?

There is no doubt that travel and exposure to new people and places increases our risk of getting sick, but some cannot avoid it. If you must travel, car travel is likely safer than being in a large airport shoulder to shoulder with a few thousand others or on a long train ride with limited air circulation. If you do take public transportation, it’s important to remain masked for the entirety of your journey —now is not the time to pull down your mask to snack; instead, wait until you can retreat from others to do so.

Keep plenty of spare masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes with you, and don’t forget to get your flu shot at least a week before travel. You can get a flu shot during your next appointment at Crystal Run, or by scheduling an appointment during one of our flu clinics.

How many guests can I have around the dinner table?

The reality is that the number of guests you can have at your dinner table may depend on how many people live in your household and what the current guidance is from the state you live in. Here in New York, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Unfortunately, eating - one of the most valued experiences at Thanksgiving - requires us to remove masks, which we all know are very vital first lines of defense against transmission of germs.

Experts agree that the safest dinner experience would be to limit dining together with only those in our household. 

If you choose to have members of another household in attendance for your celebration, your risk of catching a virus from a tablemate significantly rises if you remain within 6 feet of that person for a cumulative time of 15 minutes or more. For most families, sitting 6 feet apart at the dinner table is just not realistic, you’d need an awfully large dining room table to space each person out. 

Would eating outside help? And how likely am I to catch COVID-19 from food?

We have been blessed with some unseasonably warm days in November, but how likely is it that this unkind year would give us one of them on Turkey Day? Yes, having adequate air circulation significantly lowers transmission rates for coronavirus; if you’re able to eat outdoors and stay warm, I say go for it. Many people fail to realize that the air exchange in our home is vastly reduced compared to large commercial spaces; especially in the Northeast where homes are built for efficiency and retention of heat. To improve air exchange, try opening the windows or putting on a house exhaust if you have one.  Do not turn on your fans!  Fans actually will just blow the germs around more, not dilute the air particles. 

Since the coronavirus is a respiratory virus, people pose the highest risk. You’re much less likely to catch COVID-19 from the food you’re eating than from your trip into a cramped kitchen full of maskless family members. Instead, having the chef and helpers wear masks during food prep, washing their hands, and sanitizing often will reduce opportunities for transmission. Serving food onto individual plates, with one designated “server”, will also help to reduce congestion around the most popular food items! This is definitely the year to use disposable plates /utensils etc., that way no one is trapped in the kitchen for hours washing dishes.

So, what on earth CAN I do safely?

Keeping safety in mind, it’s time to get creative! If your family is local, potluck dinner exchanges are fairly safe.  Just drop off the pumpkin bread on the porch and make sure you move at least six feet away from the door before you start a conversation.  Turning to virtual get-togethers allows for worry-free fun; you can watch the parade on TV or play phone or video games together in different households. An outdoor walk with the family to work off that post-meal fullness remains a safe bet. You can even go shopping together, online of course!

Hosting an online dinner with families from different households may feel cold, but don’t forget there are some hidden benefits of virtual gatherings.  You can turn down the volume on your iPad when Uncle Jimmy starts his traditional post meal political rant--and he’ll never know the difference!  You can see older and high-risk family members up close, without worrying about potentially giving them the virus unknowingly.

Another great activity is creating a SOMEDAY LIST together of “the things we’ll do together when this darn pandemic ends”. This can bring joy and hope, giving us all something to look forward to. Lastly, don’t forget that gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things we humans can do for each other. Let’s make sure we all show ours: to our neighbors, friends and family this year and all years.

Mental health is often fragile during the holidays with the added stress of family gatherings. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Your Primary Care Physician can help you navigate through what you’re experiencing and recommend a Behavioral Health Specialist, if needed. The best thing you can do for your wellbeing is to get help when you need it.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!


Crystal Run Healthcare is a multidisciplinary medical practice with 50+ specialties and 400+ providers. With 18+ locations, many with onsite diagnostic imaging services and laboratories, all of your healthcare needs can be met in one location. Visit to learn more, find a doctor near you, and schedule your next appointment. 


Laura A. Nicoll, MD is a Family Practice and Primary Care Physician at Crystal Run Healthcare. She earned her Medical Degree at SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn in Brooklyn, NY and completed her Residency in Family Practice at Overlook Family Practice Residency Program in Summit, NJ. She is Board Certified in Family Medicine and is seeing patients in Monroe.