As holiday season approaches, health officials urge caution amid rising COVID-19 cases nationwide

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Families will need to take precautions this upcoming holiday season as several portions of the country, including North Carolina, deal with an increase in COVID-19.

"I think there are a lot of concerning indicators with the number of cases going up, hospitalizations and deaths going up here locally and across the country," said Dr. Emmanuel Walter Jr., the Chief Medical Officer at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

In September, the CDC discouraged trick-or-treating, adding many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses.

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"I think that's just a perfect way to spread the virus," Walter Jr. said of trick-or-treating.

Instead, health officials suggest taking part in a scavenger hunt or movie night, allowing children to safely celebrate.

However, if you do choose to trick-or-treat, Walter Jr. said children should wear masks - separate from their costume - and only go out with members of their household. He also suggests bringing hand sanitizer, using it whenever they need to reach into a candy bowl. If you are going to put out candy, Walter Jr. suggested leaving individually wrapped bags at the end of the driveway, limiting face-to-face contact and preventing children from touching the same area.

Outside of children, health officials are also concerned about young adults, encouraging them to skip parties.

"Those are very common and I think if you potentially mix alcohol in with those events, you really risk a high-transmission, kind of super-spreader type of event," said Walter Jr.

In August, several universities, including UNC and NC State, saw COVID-19 clusters pop up both on and around campus, leading them to shift undergraduate classes online and students to move off-campus.

While many universities did alter their Fall semester schedule, ensuring students did not return after Thanksgiving break, doctors say students can take steps prior to taking time off for the holiday.

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"Think about the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, for example, that travel period for example, as your pre-quarantine," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a disease specialist at Duke Health.

If you are traveling for the holidays, health officials suggest driving instead of flying. However, if it is too long to drive, it's important to be aware of your surroundings while at the airport.

"Perhaps not stop for that extra meal in the airport waiting (area) before they jump on a plane where they're all sitting down with masks down," Wolfe said, adding high-risk individuals should look into wearing an N-95 mask.

"You have to do prevention and mitigation. We know that wearing masks, doing good hand-washing and keeping distance really helps. Testing alone will not do this. The most important element we have right now is to wear a mask. If it wasn't for masks, everybody at our health system would be sick," added Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, an associate professor in Family Medicine and Community Health at Duke University.

It's important you bring extra masks and hand sanitizer while traveling, judiciously washing your hands whenever you're in a shared space.

While with people outside your household for the holidays, try to spend time outside weather-permitting. If you are unable to do so, try to keep windows open to enhance ventilation and maintain social distancing.

"In primary care, we often are seeing that whole family units are sick. If it's someone who is coughing a lot, it is more likely that family members are also going to be infected as well," explained Martinez-Bianchi.

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