As we head into a unique holiday season this year due to the prevalence of COVID-19, Atrium Health experts weigh in on a variety of topics, from how COVID-19 is spreading among children and teens to how to manage your mental health during the season, what to do (and not do) for the holidays this year, the need for flu shots, what type of COVID-19 tests are available and where to go to get them, and more.

Coronavirus Updates, Family Health | 8 months ago

Staying COVID-Safe This Holiday Season

As we head into a unique holiday season this year due to the prevalence of COVID-19, Atrium Health experts weigh in on a variety of topics, from how COVID-19 is spreading among children and teens to how to manage your mental health during the season, what to do (and not do) for the holidays this year, the need for flu shots, what type of COVID-19 tests are available and where to go to get them, and more.

As we navigate a unique holiday season this year due to the prevalence of COVID-19, Atrium Health experts weigh in on a variety of topics, from what to do (and not do) for the holidays this year, how COVID-19 is spreading among children and teens to what type of COVID-19 tests are available and where to get them, the need for flu shots, how to manage your mental health during the season, and more.

The holidays are usually a time for people to get together with loved ones, extended family, friends, and neighbors. This year, however, the holidays – from Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s – are sure to look different due to the continued prevalence of COVID-19 across the country and here in our community.  

This holiday season, it’s important to maintain COVID-safe practices – even when it may be tempting to forget about COVID-19 for just a little while and eat, drink, and be merry. Here, Atrium Health experts offer tips and information on everything from the do’s and don’ts for the holiday season, COVID-19 transmission in kids and teens, the types of COVID-19 tests available, why it’s important to get your flu shot, how to manage your mental health, and more.


Atrium Health Experts Weigh In

Amina Ahmed, MDQuestion 1: With COVID-19 still being a risk, what are some of the top things people should keep in mind this year during the holiday season?

Answer 1 | Amina Ahmed, MD, infectious disease at Atrium Health Levine Children’sIn terms of going into the holidays, I cannot stress enough the importance of trying to keep those numbers down. Try to keep indoor social gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The fewer people you have, the less chance you have of transmission, and the better chance you have of contact tracing if someone is infected.

The state has come out with some guidelines about testing prior to holiday gatherings for about a week ahead. However, there's different types of tests and the molecular test is going to be more sensitive than the rapid test being offered.

The most important thing you can do is isolate before you're gathering with any family. Remember the incubation period for COVID is up to 14 days; therefore you could be around somebody and 14 days later, develop an infection that can be then transmitted to somebody else. The state is generally recommending that about a week before a gathering, that you get a test. If you are having symptoms, it is important very important to get the molecular test, such as RT-PCR test done, and it can take several days to get the results back. Once that test is done, that test has no meaning unless you actually quarantine until the gathering – because if your test is negative, you want to stay negative. That means you want to isolate at home away from other people that could possibly have some infection before the gathering.

During the holiday season, be consistent with hand washing and social distancing. It’s also important to diligently wear your mask. If you're not eating, if you should keep a mask on as it will prevent transmission. Even if everyone is asymptomatic, we’re learning more about asymptomatic transmissions in households where people were asymptomatic, but actually had COVID-19. 

Q2: As we head into the holiday season and winter months, what should parents know about the transmission of COVID-19 among children and teenagers?  

A2 | Dr. Ahmed: When we started looking at children earlier in the year in terms of infection, there was limited testing and limited information about how the virus affected children. Back in March, we thought maybe children accounted for 1-2% of the infections overall. Now, we know that there could be anywhere from 5-15% of COVID-19 infections occurring in children. In North Carolina, it's steadily been 11% for the past two months. Teenagers act more like adults in terms of the disease, and therefore can be more severely affected than younger children; mostly 12 to 17-year-olds are being affected with a higher incidence. There seems to be a little bit of a plateau in kids but the rate of infection in teenagers are still on the rise.

Most infections do go from adults to kids, although children can transmit to other children and to adults. It’s different than influenza, for example, which sort of starts in the pediatric community and then spreads out to the adults. The number of cases has been on the rise for adults, and then the children are likely to follow.

Chris BrannerQ3: What COVID-19 testing options are available at Atrium Health? For those looking for testing, where can they go for more information and appointments?

A3 | Chris Branner, MDspecialty medical director of urgent care services at Atrium Health: We have COVID-19 tests available at most urgent care and primary care locations, and offer testing for those who have symptoms, those with a known exposure, and those that need a confirmed negative test before returning to school/work or before travel. If you have a primary care physician, contact his or her office to see if they have testing available. If you don’t have a primary care physician, contact your local urgent care to see what types of tests are offered. Online reservations are recommended if visiting an urgent care, as they allow you to check our wait times and choose options for whether you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or think you’ve had COVID-19 exposure. That gives us a heads up before the patient arrives so we know why they’re coming in and we can be better prepared to address their concerns. Those who are seeking a COVID-19 test can also call 704-468-8888 to find a nearby Atrium Health facility that offers the test.

Keep in mind certain requirements needed for assurance testing, or testing needed before returning to work/school or before travel. For example, the state of North Carolina has been requiring PCR tests for school-aged children. Some patients may be looking for rapid testing, but PCR testing may be needed before students can return to classes, so be sure to check with your local school or employer to see which type of test is required.

Be prepared to maintain a COVID-safe environment, with social distancing and mask wearing, when you come into any Atrium Health facility for testing. We’ve done a lot to help support patients with our lobby redesigns and rearrangements to enhance social distancing.

Atrium Health also operates a mobile coronavirus screening center to provide COVID-19 testing to those in areas where access to an urgent care or primary care office may be limited. For weekly schedule locations and times, visit AtriumHealth.org/GetScreened. No appointment or referral is needed.

Q4: What is the importance of getting your flu shot and where you will be able to receive a flu shot?  What are the similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19?

A4 | Dr. Branner: This year, it is crucially important to get your flu shot. It will help decrease the complexity of managing co-infections of flu and COVID-19While we wait for vaccines to be distributed.

COVID-19 symptoms and flu symptoms can often look very similar, so it’s important to get your flu shot to protect yourself from the flu, as well as monitor for symptoms and seek testing if you believe you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Patients may present with fever, body aches, and chills and it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between flu and COVID-19 cases based on symptoms alone. Some patients may have overlapping symptoms such as runny nose and sore throat. We're prepared from a testing perspective to be able to analyze and test patients for flu and COVID-19.

Q5: What are the general side effects of flu shots?

A5 | Dr. Branner: The main side effect is soreness or redness at the injection site. Generally, that’s easy to manage with taking some ibuprofen, applying ice, and resting the muscle.

Overwhelmingly, the flu vaccine is safely administered every year. That's why it's widely available at pharmacies and grocery stores, as well as available at Atrium Health primary care offices and urgent care locations. To receive a flu vaccine, call your primary care provider’s office. Don’t have a primary care provider? Call 704-468-8888.    

Russell HancockQ6: Many people have struggled with their mental health during the pandemic. Why do people tend to struggle more with mental health and addiction during the holiday season?  What tips do you have for people to have a mentally healthy holiday season this year?

A6 | Russell Hancock, PhD, psychotherapist at Atrium Health Behavioral Health Charlotte: As COVID-19 lingers on, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of individuals that are having symptoms of depression and anxiety, coupled with so much uncertainty about what is going on and when the pandemic will end. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently shared a report that found three out of four individuals admitted that they had increased their alcohol usage, and 40% of those who responded to the survey say they've been struggling with mental health concerns since COVID-19 became prevalent. As a mental health clinician, I've seen an increase in number of people coming into our facility. Again, it's ranging from anxiety, stress, and depression to people just trying to cope with these trying times.

This holiday season, we need to temper our expectations. It’s unlike any other. It doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to speak to or see friends and family in the future. It just means we might need to connect virtually or in smaller grouper as suggested by my colleagues. We have to be realistic given what’s taking place not only in our state but nationwide.

There tends to be an increase in substance use this time of year because of holiday induced stress and anxiety. Now, you add the pandemic to that and there’s even more uncertainty and stress. There’s a lot of pressure on individuals during the holidays. There are times when you're getting together with family who have certain expectations and unresolved issues. People need an outlet, and they indulge in ways that they normally wouldn't, including substance use.

I would encourage people to continue with their hobbies, allowing them to disconnect and prioritize their mental health. Find creative ways to stay connected with friends and family, like having a virtual game night, to cope with seasonal depression. Use positive coping mechanisms like art or meditation and not as many negative coping mechanisms, such as substance use. Pace yourself and set realistic expectations, so you don’t get exhausted and worn out.

Q7: What are the key takeaways for the community this holiday season?

A7 | Dr. Ahmed: The number of COVID-19 infections is on the rise. We’ve all been hearing on the news that we have had record numbers in terms of total number of cases reported in the United States and those numbers are also on the rise in children. Masking and social distancing are critical for preventing transmission. And just remember, when the mask is off, you're most likely to transmit. Do everything you can to distance when the mask is off and remember to wash your hands.

  • Stay informed and find care at Atrium Health’s COVID-19 Resource Center.
  • For questions about COVID-19 testing and information, visit our COVID-19 website or call our dedicated 24/7 coronavirus hotline: 704-468-8888.
  • For more information on our mobile COVID-19 screening and testing unit, including the latest schedule, visit AtriumHealth.org/GetScreened.
  • Read more Coronavirus updates.
  • If you or a loved one is struggling, call Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Line at 704-444-2400 for 24/7 mental health crisis assistance. We can help. You are not alone.