Q&A with Trinity Health

With the holiday season upon us, many are looking forward to the Christmas pageants, cookie baking, family gatherings and holiday shopping. But this year might look a little different. As the season ushers in colder weather, it also brings cold and flu season. On top of that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Lori Wolff, a certified physician assistant at Trinity Health in Minot, shares helpful information and considerations for a healthy and safe holiday season.


Should we modify our holiday plans due to COVID-19?

According to the CDC, there needs to be modifications this holiday season. Our traditional holiday gatherings can increase the chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. The CDC recommends precautions, such as wearing a proper mask, staying 6 feet away from people who do not live with you, and frequent handwashing. I recommend considering other forms of celebration, such as sharing virtual meals and gatherings, instead of our traditional in-person gatherings. My family recently celebrated my son-in-law’s birthday with Zoom, and it was fun!

It is also recommended that we refrain from shopping in crowded stores and being a spectator at a crowded activity, such as parades, sporting events and concerts.

Health care experts and the CDC have warned of the COVID-19 pandemic worsening as we enter winter and the holiday season. What health habits should we practice?

•    Washing hands with soap and water frequently and using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
•    Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
•    Stay home if you’re sick.
•    Cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze, using the inside of your elbow.
•    Throw away used tissues in the trash, wash your hands immediately with soap and water or use sanitizer after you cough or sneeze.  
•    Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. If surfaces are dirty, clean with soap and water prior to disinfection.
•    Get your influenza vaccination.
•    Take care of your mental health, get enough rest, refrain from excess use of alcohol, stop smoking, exercise regularly, and try to eat healthy and well-balanced meals.
•    Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Connect with your community or faith-based organizations, and consider connection online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

What high-risk holiday activities should we avoid to reduce the spread of COVID-19? And low-risk ways we can celebrate?

The CDC states that, in general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Consider activities, such as small dinners, with only people who live in your household. Find different ways to stay connected, through cards, social media or virtual dinners. It may be nice to prepare traditional family recipes for family, friends or neighbors, and safely deliver them in ways that won’t involve direct contact. My husband and I often come home to a package of baked goods from our children on the porch – it lifts our spirits.

The CDC recommends moving gatherings and events outdoors, if possible, as another COVID-19 safety practice. That’s a lot harder to do right now in North Dakota. Can we make our indoor gatherings safer, and if so, how?

We can increase ventilation by opening windows and doors when able, limiting the number of attendees as much as possible, remaining 6 feet apart at all times, and avoiding direct contact, including handshakes and hugs. It is also important to follow guidelines that have been previously mentioned, such as wearing a proper mask, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

Can COVID-19 be spread through food handling and eating? What food safety practices should we be implementing?

According to the CDC, there is no evidence that people can get COVID-19 by eating or handling food. It may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, such as a food package or dining ware, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. It is important to handle and cook foods to their recommended cooking temperatures to prevent any foodborne illness. And it is very important to wash hands before touching the mouth, nose or eyes.

What considerations should be made for holiday travel?

Traveling increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you do travel, the CDC recommends you learn which travel activities are lower risk, so you are able to better protect yourself and others. Do not travel if you are sick or have suspected or diagnosed COVID-19 in the past 14 days. It is also important to check travel restrictions before traveling. Get your flu shot before you travel, wear a mask properly, stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not in your household, wash your hands, and avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth.

For college students returning home, do you have any health and safety recommendations? What about overnight guests?

College students may be returning home for the holidays, and it is important that we follow the guidelines already discussed above, such as properly wearing masks, maintaining a 6-foot distance and good handwashing. In regard to overnight guests, consider whether you, people you live with, or people you plan to visit are at increased risk to develop severe illness from COVID-19 to determine if you should stay overnight in the same residence.

Should I get a flu shot?

It is likely that the flu and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this flu season. I highly recommend that everyone gets a flu vaccine this year. We currently do not have a cure for COVID-19.
Our health care system is already taxed – if we are fighting both COVID-19 and the flu, this will further increase the strain on our health care system. Getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting your health and your family’s health this season. Early in my career, I was told that getting my influenza immunization was important, because even though influenza may not be deadly or cause me serious illness, if I spread it to someone else with health issues, it may be fatal or cause serious health issues for them.

What’s your health message to people reading this right now?

Continue to take care of your physical and mental health. Continue your medications. Continue to follow up with your health care provider, and do not change your treatment plans without talking to your provider.

Try to keep a positive attitude. This will not last forever. We really are all in this together. Please reach out to the elderly in safe ways. Let them know they are loved and not forgotten about.
Every day, I speak with my patients. They talk with me about their lives – they still have all of the problems they had before, on top of dealing with the extra stress of COVID-19. Please be kind!
More information can be found online through the CDC or N.D. Department of Health.

A certified physician assistant at Trinity Health in Minot, Lori Wolff, PA-C, provides the full range of primary care services to people of all ages. A longtime Minot resident, she earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Mary and completed her physician assistant studies at the University of North Dakota in 2012. Prior to joining the Trinity Health staff, she served patients at CHI St. Alexius Medical Center for six years and, most recently, at Sanford Health. Lori is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the North Dakota Academy of Physician Assistants. She and her husband, Scott, have two children and enjoy hiking and motorcycling.