From family gatherings to religious services to the exchanging of gifts, December is a month in which many Union County residents observe their respective holidays. But how can celebrants stay safe this season?
One factor to consider this year is that 2020′s holidays have different implications than those observed last year. Planning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is one way citizens can stay safe.
According to the CDC, holiday travel is not advised this year. The safest way to enjoy the winter holidays is to celebrate with those in one’s own home. In a single week this month, the CDC reported that almost 1.5 million new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed nationwide.
However, if citizens do plan to gather, the CDC recommends that holiday plans be modified in order to keep family, friends and others in the community safe. Limiting the number of guests as much as possible, remaining six feet apart at all times, wearing masks when not eating or drinking, not sharing serving utensils, utilizing single-use dishes and cutlery, providing single-use condiments, and running a central heat or fan system to increase air circulation are steps the CDC gives for reducing the spread of the coronavirus this holiday season.
Some other health-related recommendations include receiving a flu vaccine before traveling and being tested for COVID-19 a few days before and after travel. The CDC suggests limiting non-essential activities for a full seven days after travel, even if the return test is negative. If one chooses to not get tested, they recommend reducing non-essential activities for 10 days after travel.
Wearing a mask while using public transportation can limit your risk of exposure, as well as washing hands frequently and bringing a supply of at least a 60% alcohol hand sanitizer. And for those attending worship services in-person, wearing a mask and learning what other safety guidelines the church has in place, such as social distancing requirements, are advised.
For those choosing to isolate over the holidays, the CDC recommends virtual Christmas celebrations when possible, stating that this option is the best choice for 2020. Many churches provide virtual worship services on their websites or live-stream via Facebook. Holiday activities with those in one’s own home can include making cards, crafts or cookies, driving around to look at light displays, or making snowmen or angels when possible. Even a virtual “ugly Christmas sweater” contest with extended family and friends was suggested. For more information on holiday guidelines, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Other factors to consider if choosing to travel this holiday season are the probability for increased traffic and weather conditions. Union County Chief Deputy Steve Maitlen said it is important to plan ahead.
“It may be sunny here, but if you’re going to Sioux City, it could be snowing. So check the radars out, check the weather. ... Especially if I’m in Iowa, I check Iowa DOT — and I know all states have it — just to see what road conditions are going to be,” he said.
Maitlen said those traveling should make sure their cars are stocked with essentials.
“Make sure you have stuff in your car, your battery charger for your cellphone, make sure you have blankets and make sure you have food, water, just the essential stuff incase you would get stuck or something,” he said.
Maitlen said it is also critical that people keep an eye on their fuel levels.
“Make sure you have plenty of gas, don’t run it all the way to empty. A quarter of a tank — go put some gas in it,” he said.
Fire Chief Todd Jackson of the Creston Fire Department said while they do not often see Christmas-related fires, they do observe a general increase in calls during the winter months.
“We see a spike in calls when it starts getting cold,” he said.
Jackson said there are some basic things residents can do to decrease the likelihood of a fire.
“If you have a live Christmas tree, make sure you keep it watered so it’s not too dry. If your decoration plan includes candles — we kind of discourage that — but if you do, make sure you keep them away from anything that’s flammable,” he said.
Jackson said as temperatures drop and citizens consider using their fireplaces, they should first have them checked out and cleaned. When cooking holiday meals with smokers or fryers, he said to make sure the units are kept far away from the house. And to decrease the possibility for electrical fires, Jackson said light displays must not overload circuits. Space heaters must also use an outlet source capable of handling them.
“It’s getting to be a cold time of year and people use axillary heating methods. ... Don’t leave them unattended,” he said.
Jackson said the Creston Fire Department has received calls about space heater-related fires.
“We’ve had it in the past, where fires have started because people have had them in their bedrooms and they tossed the blankets off the bed and onto the heaters and it started a fire. So, just make sure there’s no combustibles by any of the heaters,” he said.
Jackson said they recommend against using portable propane or kerosene heaters inside the home, as they are not designed for such. According to homeairadvisor.com, while these types of heaters may warm a garage quickly, some emit carbon monoxide, which can be lethal if ingested and needs to be vented out. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions properly.
And making sure one’s home is supplied with working smoke detectors on every floor — and carbon monoxide detectors if the home utilizes anything that burns gas, wood, oil, or charcoal — saves lives, Jackson said.
Maitlen said both home and vehicle break-ins during the holidays are things people can minimize by following a few simple steps.
“Especially this time of year when you have gifts under the tree or something, just lock your house instead of leaving it open,” he said.
Maitlen said once unwrapped and unpackaged, boxes set out with the trash can also inform burglars of what expensive items a home has gained over Christmas. In this case, Maitlen suggested residents look into recycling options or break the boxes down.
“Don’t leave a huge — I just bought an 84″ TV — box sitting (out). That’s going to tell people, they just got a new TV,” he said.
Maitlen said those traveling should leave their homes with the appearance that they are still occupied.
“If you’re going to be gone for several days, leave some lights on, put lights on a timer. Let your neighbors know. If you have a neighbor you trust, give them a key,” he said.
Maitlen said a trustworthy neighbor can aid in making sure all things are well inside the home. Another thing to keep in mind while traveling, he said, is that social media posts can inform burglars of a resident’s absence.
“This is my biggest pet peeve, is people will go on vacation and immediately they get on social media and they show the world that they’re on vacation. Wait until you get back, and then share every picture you want, but wait until you get back. People see that you’re in the Bahamas on vacation — hey, that’s the perfect time to break into your house,” he said.
Maitlen said as far as vehicles go, not leaving packages or other important or valuable items in cars can help reduce the risk of a break-in. Items such as weapons or medication should be taken inside, he said, and vehicles should always be locked.
“That’s what I would suggest, not only for Christmas, but throughout the whole year,” Maitlen said.