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Spread Joy, Not COVID-19

Considering a Very Different Holiday Season 
By Robert J. Turngren, MD, MBA, Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer, Samaritan Health Services

It has been a challenging year full of unwelcome changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic. Most of these changes are for the greater good - precautions which limit the spread of the virus. With some changes it is hard to see any silver lining, such as when people have lost work or businesses have struggled or closed, being isolated from family and friends, or worst of all, when loved ones have suffered or passed away.  

After many months of precautions and prevention, we are now facing winter with surging cases of COVID-19 across our region and the nation. We are spending more time indoors, where the virus can spread more easily from person to person. Precautions such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing continue to be of utmost importance. 

Gov. Kate Brown’s recent announcement of a return to stricter precautions across the state is a clear reminder that we need to think carefully about our holiday plans. We encourage our community to embrace alternatives this holiday season. 

One of the main ways the coronavirus is spreading is through household gatherings of extended families and friends. We have some difficult choices to make, but we need to consider the risks of gathering together, continue to observe the precautions and adjust our plans. 

My wife, Nancy, and I have canceled plans to visit extended family – including our six children, three grandchildren and her parents in the Midwest. This is the commitment we made to ensure everyone’s safety despite our strong desire to spend the holidays with family. 

Celebrating with members of your own household, or virtually with video platforms like FaceTime or Zoom, poses the lowest risk of spread. We know this is not the same as being there in person, but after the diligence and sacrifice of the past several months, this is not the time to let our guards down. 

If extended families or friends still decide to get together, they should do everything they can to reduce risks as much as possible. Consider the personal risk factors of each person – age, health conditions, occupational exposure – and COVID-19 transmission rates where each will be travelling to or from. Carefully observe all coronavirus precautions, including face coverings, hand washing and physical distancing and avoid crowds, especially indoors. And do not assume that getting a coronavirus test before travelling to a family event is a sure way to know it is safe. The test tells your status at a moment in time and may not tell you if you will be contagious at the time of the gathering.  

We thank you again for everything you have done to help keep our communities safe and limit the spread of coronavirus. We are in this together and with continued diligence and shared sacrifice, we will get through this pandemic together.

For more information about Samaritan Health Services’ response to COVID-19, visit