It’s a double holiday weekend. Here are some tips for celebrating while avoiding the virus

Making Valentine's Day cookies is a safe alternative for the holiday weekend. (CDC)

Making Valentine's Day cookies is a safe alternative for the holiday weekend. (CDC)

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As we navigate yet another pandemic holiday weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people find alternatives to their usual celebrations.

Though it might be tempting to spend this particular long weekend — which features not only Valentine’s Day but Presidents Day too — in close contact with friends and loved ones, think whether you’re helping to spread the virus rather than curb it.

If you’re planning to get out of the house or be with people you don’t live with, the CDC offers these tips to help lower the infection rate. Most of them will sound familiar:

  • Wear a mask with two or more layers to protect yourself and others
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from people who do not live with you
  • Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated public spaces that do not offer fresh air from outdoors
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds

The CDC recommends postponing travel plans, since that may increase the chance of spreading or catching the virus. Instead, the agency recommends:

  • Hosting virtual gatherings instead of in-person get-togethers
  • Driving or walking around the community and waving from a safe distance
  • Throwing a virtual dance party or celebrating outdoors with neighbors and friends (masked or physically distant)
  • Volunteering to help those in need
  • Attending a religious ceremony

One perennial Valentine’s Day favorite is going to restaurants, and some in Philadelphia were allowed to expand to 50% indoor capacity on Friday if they passed an air ventilation test. 

Still, Usama Bilal,  an assistant professor in the Urban Health Collaborative and the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health, cautions people against indoor dining at all costs for their own safety and the safety of the restaurant workers.

“It’s a holiday where people usually go to restaurants, and we are increasing the capacity of indoor dining. The combination of those things can be very dangerous for the city,” Bilal said.

Bilal worries about indoor dining because people would have to remove masks to eat and drink. And if you plan on eating outdoors in a tent or enclosed space as an alternative to eating indoors, Bilal would recommend against that too.

“Those places [outdoor tents], ventilation may even be worse than indoors,” Bilal said. “At least some indoor spaces have ventilators, but those outdoor spaces really are in some cases worse because of the false sense of security. If you want to do outdoor dining, truly do outdoor dining, If you see walls around you, that’s not outdoor.”

With wintry temperatures forecast for the weekend, it’s unlikely people will want to eat outdoors in the way Bilal recommends, however.

If you absolutely have to meet people indoors, Bilal suggests indoor activities that do not involve taking your masks off. The CDC takes it one step further and advises that if you are hosting an indoor event, make sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched items between use, limit the number of guests, and bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors.

Since most people have not yet been vaccinated and are still susceptible to the coronavirus, celebrating indoors is still very risky.

“With the vaccine or vaccination rates going up, there will be a time where we’ll be able to do this again,” Bilal said. But until then, “people can avoid meeting indoors without a mask with people they don’t live with. That should be a priority at this moment.”

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