A room full of friends and family who have not seen each other in a long time, hug, kiss and celebrate the reunion around a table full of delicacies.
They spend hours together, laugh, yell, pass plates and cutlery to each other, and exchange gifts.
Before 2020 this could be a typical Christmas postcard.
Now it’s a ideal scenario for the spread of coronavirus.
For this reason, experts warn that the only way to avoid the transmission of the virus is to give up the celebrations in person.
If they are, all the specialists that BBC Brazil interviewed emphasize that it is impossible to eliminate the risks of contagion, but what there are measures to mitigate them.
Before leaving home
To get started, Quarantine for two weeks (or at least one) and confirm that you are virus-free with a PCR test (72 hours before the meeting) can go a long way toward minimizing risks.
Besides that, it is essential that you pay close attention to any symptom.
“A lot of people say ‘oh, I just have a cough or it’s just snot.’ Evaluate if it is something unusual for you and avoid going because it will be a high-risk exposure ”, says Juliana Lapa, infectologist and professor at the University of Brasilia (UnB).
Although experts recommend avoiding travel.
If you are going to move, it is better to do it by car. This way you avoid crowds at airports, airplanes, buses, bus stations and in the common areas of hotels.
Ideally, the celebration should be only between people living in the same home.
If not, the first tip is to gather the least amount possible people and take into account the number of coexistence groups that mix.
“For example, a meeting between 10 people tends to be less risky if only two groups live together (five live in one house and the other five in another) than if the 10 people live in different houses”, explains Vitor Mori, member of the Covid-19 BR Observatory group and biomedical engineer from the University of Vermont School of Medicine (USA).
Experts also ask for special attention with risk groups.
“If possible, the elderly and people suffering from obesity, diabetes, hypertension and lung problems should avoid meetings,” Estevão Urbano, president of the Minas Gerais Association of Infectious Diseases, tells BBC Brazil.
“Of course, they are also the ones that have suffered the most from isolation during the pandemic and should be the ones most in need at this time, but ideally they should take more precautions than the rest.”
If a meeting with a person from the risk group is unavoidable, says Juliana Lapa, one option is “to pay a short visit, without dinner, without removing the mask.”
Ventilation is key
If they are to meet, let it be in a open placesuch as a garden, a backyard, a roof terrace or a balcony.
If the only option is inside a room or apartment, leave all windows open.
To emphasize the importance of this measurement, Mori compares the small liquid particles that we expel with the smoke of a cigarette.
“If you are in an open space next to a person who is smoking, you will feel little smoke because the air will disperse it. But if you are indoors with the doors and windows closed, even if you keep more than a meter and a half away, you will be able to smell the cigarette and inhale the smoke ”.
If it is not possible to ventilate the space well, it is necessary to reduce the number of people, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for its acronym in English) of the United States.
What can be done to increase the circulation of indoor air?
“Put a fan near the window and facing the front. In that way, the fan works like an exhaust fan, sucking in air and pushing it out of the room. This generates negative pressure inside the room and brings in fresh air from another window ”, explains the biomedical engineer.
The expert recommends that if you have more than one window and more than one fan, you can place this extra on the opposite window and in the opposite position, that is, facing into the room.
Thus, one fan draws in the air and another blows it out, generating constant air circulation and exchange.
The CDC advises that windows and doors should only remain open where there is no risk of falls or if this does not cause a crisis for people with asthma.
They add that to avoid contamination, fans should not generate airflow directly from one person to another.
This measure does not exclude the basic precautions of keeping your distance, disinfecting your hands, and wearing masks.
Short encounters, with a mask and social distance
The longer you are exposed, the more your risk increases.
That’s why experts suggest keeping your meetings short. “Long evenings are the big villain of the broadcast,” says Urbano.
Whenever possible, people who do not live in the same home should keep as much distance as possible, wear a mask and moderate the volume of voice to reduce the possibility of contagion.
“The louder you speak or sing, the more particles are thrown into the air,” says Urbano.
Rotation or separate tables at mealtime
Dinner can be one of the most critical moments.
This is when people are usually closest and need to remove the mask to eat and drink.
“If someone doesn’t wear a mask, they become a possible spreader. We can all be, since there are asymptomatic people who don’t even know they are sick. ”, Says Jaques Sztajnbok, supervising ICU physician at the Emílio Ribas Institute of Infectious Diseases, in Sao Paulo.
The organization of the tables can help. If there is only one table in the house, the recommendation is to rotate at lunchtime, prioritizing groups with older people.
For example, imagine that there is a couple who live in one house and the parents of one of them, who are already older, live in another house.
They recommend that parents eat first, while the rest wait away and with a mask.
For those with more space (and more tables!) They can be set up separated by groups that live together. Following the previous example, the couple would be at one table and the parents at another.
They also recommend not sharing objects such as cutlery or glasses, so it is better not to use the same salad bowl this year.
Don’t let your guard down during the party
They have been very hard months for everyone and there is the possibility that when families and friends get together they will loosen precautions.
That’s where the danger lies, doctors say.
“It’s a time when people drink alcohol or relax and they can let their guard down. That can translate into many COVID-19 cases and preventable deaths. We are moving towards the acquisition of the vaccine. So you have to be careful not to relax at this point. ”, Says Estevão Urbano.
The WHO recommendation
The World Health Organization (WHO) reinforces the idea that there is no “zero risk” during Christmas celebrations.
He proposes that the meetings be virtual this year, since the highest incidence of transmissions occurs between people who spend a lot of time together, in closed spaces and sharing meals.
“It’s incredibly difficult because, especially during the holidays, we want to be with family. But in some situations, the difficult decision not to have a family reunion is the safest bet, ”says Maria Van Kerkhove, covid-19 technical leader at WHO.
* Graphics by the BBC Mundo Visual Journalism team and BBC Brazil.
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