CHICAGO — People should celebrate Christmas and other holidays online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s top doctor said Wednesday.
Illinois is still in the midst of a COVID-19 surge that’s killing hundreds and infecting thousands of people per week. Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and other officials have said they’re worried there could be another surge on top of that if people gather for the winter holidays.
Ezike is urging people to stay home, only spending time with members of their household, and to celebrate virtually so the virus’s spread slows and more people don’t lose their lives.
“The safest way to enjoy the upcoming holidays would still be to be virtual,” Ezike said at a Wednesday news conference.
The doctor suggested people find ways to honor traditions without gathering in person. That could mean bringing presents to a loved one’s home and leaving them outside or donating to a charitable organization as a gift to someone, she said.
“I want you to call or video chat, as many of you did at Thanksgiving,” she said. “There is still time to change your holiday plans. If you haven’t made them, I hope you will take this to heart.
“Please, let’s give the gift of life, let’s give the gift of health this holiday season. Again, we’ve come too far to give up now.”
You don’t need to skip celebrations, Ezike said — merely think of them as being postponed. Once the pandemic is over, you’ll be able to have parties with families and friends and make up for all the holidays and milestones you missed, she said.
“I have missed some events, graduations, wedding anniversaries, and I’m fully planning to celebrate those. It just is still upcoming,” Ezike said. “I urge people to postpone the normal ways you’re used to celebrating.
“We are advising people to postpone travel during the holidays. It’s not the message I want to deliver, but it is what’s responsible and will keep everyone safest.
“Let’s think about this: If we’ve made it this far in the pandemic, with the finish line starting to come into sight, you deserve … to make it all the way to the other side. We’ve come too far to turn back now.”
People who insist on gathering should at least wear a mask when indoors — but, better yet, they should try to keep their celebrations outside, Ezike said. If they are indoors, they should try to increase ventilation by opening windows and doors.
“Would it kill you to wear a mask indoors? No, it won’t; but not wearing one could kill someone,” she said, noting roughly half of all COVID-19 cases are transmitted by someone who doesn’t have symptoms of the disease.
“Even if you think you are healthy and you feel well, you still could be spreading the virus,” Ezike said.
Still, the safest way to celebrate is online, she said. And she reminded people getting a negative coronavirus test doesn’t clear you, as you could get a false negative or could become sick in between the time you get a test and gather with others.
Much of Illinois’ and Chicago’s recent wave of cases has been blamed on people gathering in small groups of family and friends inside homes.
Officials have worried parties from Thanksgiving will lead to even more spread as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other major winter celebrations begin.
Ezike said earlier this week it’s still too early to see if there is a Thanksgiving-related surge in Illinois.
But Chicago is already seeing an upswing in new cases and its positivity rate, which is “clearly” related to people gathering for Thanksgiving, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the city’s Department of Public Health, said Thursday.
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