Christmas COVID warning: Cleveland doctor urges against large, unmasked gatherings


Doctor: 'Do this one more holiday and try to social distance'

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CLEVELAND (WJW)– There is one week until Christmas and health experts are again warning families about holding large gatherings during the holidays.

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available, doctors said we should not have to sacrifice family time much longer.

“Large, indoor gatherings at Christmas, unmasked is gonna lead to more spread, more hospitalizations and more fatal cases,” said infectious disease Dr. Keith Armitage, of University Hospitals.

He urged Northeast Ohioans to keep holiday gatherings small; Only have close interactions with people in your immediate circle, the people you live with.

“I think it behooves to try to just do this one more holiday and try to social distance during this holiday, use Zoom, use other video interfaces with family, have a Zoom Christmas with your extended family,” said Dr. Armitage, who is also medical director of the Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine and Global Health.

On Friday, Cuyahoga County extended its stay-at-home advisory until Jan. 15, which is 14 days, or one COVID incubation period, after New Year’s Day.

“Our current surge continues and warrants these additional steps to protect the health of the public, and we’ll re-assess the impact of the holiday season on community and congregate setting transmission prior to Jan. 15,” said Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan.

“This pandemic has been getting worse, not better and while the vaccines are providing hope, we still have some cold, dark, dangerous months to survive,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.

Health experts urge people to avoid traveling during the holidays. If you do, go by car and only with people in your household. They say online Christmas shopping is the safest, but if you visit a store or mall, don’t linger. Buy what you need and leave.

“We’re at the highest level ever over the last two or three weeks, but it does seem to be flattening off or gone down just a little bit,” Armitage said.

Armitage said he believes mask and social distancing compliance is better in Northeast Ohio than most parts of the country. He said if people heed the advice to limit holiday gatherings, it will prevent already strained hospitals from running out of beds.

Sacrificing this Christmas could pay off as a life-saving gift in 2021.

“The good news is… The vaccines are highly effective, they’re on their way. So people just need to hang in for a little while longer and we’ll get through this,” Armitage said.

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