CEO Update: Celebrate the Holidays Safely
This message is from Brian Nester, DO, MBA, FACOEP, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lehigh Valley Health Network.
I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving celebration with your family and did so in as safe a manner as possible. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and isolating for many people, particularly now during the holiday season, which is normally marked by gatherings to reconnect with family and friends. But, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate the holidays is at home with the people you live with.
Celebrating virtually or with members of your household who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 poses the lowest risk. Your household members include anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit, such as your house or apartment. This can include family members, as well as roommates or people who are unrelated to you. However, in-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households – including students returning home from college – can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19.
We all share the strong desire to spend time with those we love. But, these are extraordinary times that may require sacrifices to ensure safety and protection, especially for older members of our family and household who have certain medical risk factors. These individuals have weaker defenses for fighting the challenges of a COVID-19 infection. Surely, none of us would want to be the cause of unnecessary exposure to the virus that could harm a loved one. That’s why LVHN is putting out a call to arms for everyone to “Do Your Part,” so hospitals do not become overwhelmed. Here’s the situation:
In the last three weeks, COVID-19 has been spreading quickly across our region.
In the last 10 days, the number of patients admitted to LVHN hospitals has nearly doubled.
We already have nearly as many COVID patients in our hospitals as we did in the spring.
We have a plan in place to care for all patients. However, we need our community’s help to ensure we are not overrun with COVID patients and to ensure we have the beds, equipment and staff to care for all patients.
The actions you take over the next month will matter and can significantly impact the health of our community. Do your part. Make the right decisions to protect yourself and others so hospitals can care for everyone.
Wear a mask.
Practice social distancing by staying 6 feet apart.
Wash your hands frequently.
Stay home as much as you can, especially when you are sick.
Think about ways you can limit contact with others. For example, go to the grocery store once a week instead of multiple times.
For all these reasons, consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your family, friends and communities healthy and safe. While nothing is safer than gathering only with those individuals you live with, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following considerations to slow the spread of COVID-19 during small gatherings. Please consider the following information as you plan your holidays.
Community levels of COVID-19 – High or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in the gathering location, as well as in the areas where attendees are coming from, increase the risk for infection and spread among attendees. Consider the number of COVID-19 cases in your community and in the community where you plan to celebrate when deciding whether to host or attend a gathering. Information on the number of cases in an area can often be found on the local health department website.
Exposure during travel – Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations and rest stops are places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces.
Location of the gathering – Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor ventilation such as small enclosed spaces with no outside air, pose more risk than outdoor gatherings.
Duration of the gathering – Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Being within 6 feet (two arm lengths) of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk for becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine.
Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet apart, wear masks, wash hands, and follow state, local, territorial or tribal health and safety laws, rules and regulations.
Behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering – Individuals who did not consistently adhere to social distancing, mask wearing, hand-washing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than those who consistently practiced these safety measures.
Behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more safety measures in place – such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand-washing – pose less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented. Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures.
Now is the time to pledge to safety, to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, like you did this past spring. Remember, even close adherence to the considerations above won’t stack up to the safety of gathering only with the people you live with. At best, they will only partially mitigate the risk for spreading COVID-19.
I know this is hard. But, do you know what would be even worse? Having a sick loved one who can’t get the care he or she deserves because hospitals are overwhelmed.
Here’s the good news. It’s not too late. If we act now, we’ll be OK. So, do you part and feel confident that LVHN is doing all we can to manage this unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases for the patients and communities we serve.
For all you do, be LVHN Proud. Thank you for your partnership.
Brian Nester, DO, MBA, FACOEP
President and Chief Executive Officer, Lehigh Valley Health Network