A Timeless Circle is
an art installation in Whistler designed by Musqueam artist Susan Point as a
legacy of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, Office of the Chief Medical Officer
Winter ceremonies and celebrations are a time when many of us connect with friends and family and share good moments and memories. With high vaccination rates in most places across the province, this year there are more opportunities and ways we can do so.
However, the COVID-19 virus is not yet done with us and the chance of becoming infected and passing it to others—especially indoors – still exists. Planning ahead can help ensure social interactions are as COVID-19-safe as possible for you and all your loved ones, including those who may not yet be vaccinated.
A first step in planning is to make sure you are aware of current provincial, regional, and community health regulations and restrictions. Provincial regulations require all people to be fully vaccinated when visiting certain non-essential venues and for organized events with more than 50 people. Sizes of gatherings are also limited in some parts of the province—particularly if unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated people who are 12 and older will be attending. Many First Nations communities have developed similar COVID-19 safety plans that place a priority on getting vaccinated.
In planning your gathering, ensuring everyone aged five and older has received their vaccines, including a booster dose for those who qualify, is one of the best ways to lower the odds of the virus passing to you or people you care about. Wearing a mask in indoor settings – even when these are not required – is also going to be important this holiday season.
How to plan for safer gatherings
Start by keeping gatherings small, even if this means having separate events over a couple of evenings. If both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests will be invited, make sure all guests attending are aware so they can make their own decisions about attending.
Be patient and understanding (show lateral kindness) with people who are not yet confident enough to get vaccinated. Make sure you spend time with loved ones in a safe way even if they will not be attending your gathering. A year after approval of the vaccines we continue to see people overcome their hesitations and get their first dose. Every one of these people is truly a vaccine champion!
Consider holding an event outdoors on the land. A toboggan party, snowshoeing, or gathering around a fire can include those who are unvaccinated in the safest way. Singing or drumming are an important part of traditions and ceremonies at this time of year—and I can't think of a year where this would be more uplifting for our spirits!
Note that the heavier and deeper breathing that comes with exercise, laughter, and singing can increase risk of spreading COVID-19, so wearing masks even outside can still be important. Guests may feel more comfortable by using medical masks with better breathability.
Keep gatherings small and allow enough space for people to keep apart from those not in their social circle should they wish. For indoor events, cracking windows open to let in fresh air can additionally decrease risk.
It's reasonable to ask those who are unvaccinated—or even all guests—to wear a mask when not eating to prevent not only COVID-19, but other respiratory viruses that are now circulating. You can make mask-wearing a part of the festivities by offering guests holiday-themed masks or asking guests to bring a fun mask and vote for the best one—a variation on the “ugly Christmas sweater" award.
Food is always an integral part of any holiday event, but this year, it's important to avoid buffet-style meals and to set up distanced seating so people are safer when removing their masks to eat.
If you are feeling sick, always err on the side of caution and stay home and rest! There will be other holidays. If one of your invitees is not feeling well, ask that they stay home – and promise to include them in a future event when they're feeling better. Let them know you care about them and ensure they know how to get tested for COVID-19 if they're experiencing symptoms.
Creativity, compassion, resilience and reliance on culture and community have sustained First Nations since time immemorial. Even though we cannot practise all of them as usual right now, we can draw upon them in creative, safe ways to ensure healthy and happy winter celebrations.