Expert: Family gatherings crucial this holiday season

Holiday signs and decorations are displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

HARLINGEN — A year ago, families were struggling with a Thanksgiving void of gatherings and filled with the lurking specter of COVID-19.

This year, families and friends are gathering again and enjoying turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings of laughter and goodwill.

It’s not only a resumption of familiar things, it’s also a crucial time of healing for everyone, said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

“I think it’s critical that we rekindle and reunite those relationships with people that are important in our lives,” said Romero, who is also medical director of PanAmerican Clinical Research in Brownsville.

“We are social creatures, and we truly need that even on a physiological level,” he said. “Humans need the companionship of those in their community. So, the thing we’ve been through, the loss we’ve suffered, that’s even more so this year.”

This same time last year, vaccines still weren’t available. A year later, they are readily available and many have even received booster shots. COVID-19 cases have fallen drastically, and immunity rates have risen.

However, people should still exercise good judgment in their daily activities and holiday gatherings, according to experts.

“We’re looking forward to a much safer holiday season this year,” he said. “But that being said, it also means we have to keep being smart and realize that COVID still is circulating in our community.”

Some of the precautions are the same common sense-type things regarding anyone who is sick. People generally know that if they’re sick with the flu or strep throat or sinus infection, they shouldn’t attend family gatherings. That’s true now more than ever.

“If you’ve been exposed to COVID, then you should get tested before being around your loved ones,” he said. “If you’re traveling in mass transit situations on airplanes or public transportation, the CDC still has a requirement for wearing a face mask over the mouth and nose, and that makes sense. You’re around people who have been all over the world and we saw how the Delta variant started in India and ended up hitting us very dramatically even here in the Rio Grande Valley.”

He pointed out how the Delta variant highlighted the need for continued vigilance against COVID-19 and urged people to get vaccinated.

“I encourage people to do the right thing to vaccinate if they have not already,” he said. “If they’re unvaccinated and they are going to be around elderly family members with health issues, they should get tested to make sure they don’t have COVID.”

He addressed concerns and realities that some vaccinated people still get COVID-19 and even die.

“Nothing is 100 percent guaranteed,” he said. “But we do know they dramatically reduce the risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19. And that’s really what we want to do is protect our friends, our neighbors, our families from developing the most severe forms of the disease which has claimed a lot of lives in the Rio Grande Valley.”

That said, and keeping safety precautions in mind, make plans this holiday season to gather with family and friends.

“We do need to be together now more than ever,” Romero said. “The healing does need to begin. We’ve all been through so much, unfortunately some of us more than others who’ve seen so much loss or experienced so much loss during this pandemic. And it’s time for us to start moving forward and we have the tools to allow us to do so.”