The 2020 fall and winter holiday season will be different than any in our lifetimes. While living with or caring for someone with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) may have complicated holiday celebrations in the past, COVID-19 introduces a brand new set of limitations. Instead of fretting over large family meals or planning trips to see loved ones, many of us are preparing for small holidays at home. It’s a difficult and sometimes painful adjustment, even if we’ve been living with COVID-19 safety precautions for most of the year. Despite this year of challenges, there are steps we can take to keep ourselves safe and to find joy during the winter and holiday season.
It’s important to continue following the public health guidelines for protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19. This is especially critical for individuals with SMA who may be more vulnerable to respiratory infections. The following precautions are crucial for limiting the spread of the virus:
Depending on where you live, indoor dining, shopping malls, and other activities may be open. Be sure to follow appropriate precautions if you choose to go out to eat or shop.
There is still time to get the flu shot. Each year the flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths. During the 2018-19 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the vaccine prevented 4.4 million flu cases and 3,500 deaths in the United States.
The flu vaccine is appropriate for babies over 6 months, children, and adults. The nasal spray flu vaccine is only appropriate for people between ages 2 and 49 who are not pregnant or immunocompromised. A special flu vaccine is available for adults over 65.
Flu vaccination is generally recommended for people with SMA and their caregivers and is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consult your doctor with any questions about vaccinations and your medications.
In addition to protecting your own health if you have SMA or if you are a caregiver to someone with SMA, flu vaccination helps the entire community. Flu vaccination can help maintain enough hospital capacity for people sick with COVID-19 and can ensure testing supplies and laboratory resources are available for COVID-19 testing.
The flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. One symptom that seems to occur in COVID-19 but not flu is a new loss of taste or smell. Because symptoms overlap, it may not be possible to differentiate the two conditions without a diagnostic test.
Contact your doctor for guidance if you or your child has symptoms consistent with flu or COVID-19. Seek emergency care right away if you experience difficulty breathing, bluish tinge to the lips or face, chest pain or pressure, confusion, or inability to stay awake.
We’re all missing closeness and intimacy with our loved ones. Parents of children with SMA may be struggling without the same support they’ve relied on to care for their children. That sense of separation can feel even more painful during holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas when we’d normally be gathering for parties and meals. Since March, many of us have found ways to connect virtually to celebrate birthdays, new babies, and holidays. Many of us have been lucky enough to enjoy socially distant outdoor visits in backyards and parks. Here are a few more ideas to show your loved ones you care.
Putting together a care package for a family member or friend is a great way to express love and appreciation for someone. A care package can be simple and low-cost. You can pack a box with comforting items like tea or coffee, a favorite book or puzzle, and a heartfelt note. Or you can order a premade care package from a local or online store.
Sharing special foods is a part of the holidays many of us look forward to. If there’s a traditional family food you’re used to sharing, consider sending it this year. That might mean dropping off a batch of your famous cookies to a loved one across town or sending a meal from a local restaurant to a friend in another city or state.
As lockdowns took hold last spring, signs popped up in people’s yards and windows with messages like, “Thank you front-line workers.” Parents have hung children’s drawings and placed teddy bears in windows as a way to show care and build connection with neighbors and passersby.
If you normally decorate your home, consider adding a message of care as part of your holiday decor. If decorating isn’t something you normally do, consider posting a sign on your front door or in your window sending support to your neighbors or thanking your mail carrier. These small expressions of gratitude and kindness can help us all feel more connected this year.
You may have friends or family members who aren’t taking COVID-19 precautions as seriously as you are. They may not understand that a key part of staying safe as a person with SMA, or as a parent to a child with SMA, is protecting yourself from COVID-19. Let your loved ones know that connecting with them over the holidays is as important as ever to you, but you can’t put your health at risk.
Do your best to stay calm and focused when setting your boundaries. Here are some tips:
2020 has been a year of adaptation. The holiday season is no different. If we stay flexible and keep an open mind, we can find joy in this year’s celebrations.