Editorial: This New Year's Eve, stay at home, stay safe and stay away from COVID-19

With Thanksgiving and Christmas behind us, the triple threat of the holiday season comes to a close Thursday night and into Friday morning with New Year's Eve turning into New Year's Day.

Many parts of the country saw a surge in COVID-19 cases after the Thanksgiving holiday, and a similar surge is expected in the days and weeks following Christmas. Despite pleas from public health officials at the national, state and local levels, many Americans ignored those warnings by traveling and holding large holiday gatherings. Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to run roughshod over the country.

Locally, Whitfield and Murray counties remain burning red hotspots for COVID-19.

On Tuesday, there were 10,560 cumulative, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Whitfield County and 117 deaths attributed to the virus, and 2,545 cumulative, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Murray County with 40 deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health. During the past 14 days, Whitfield County has added 1,365 cases while Murray County has tacked on 379 cases. Whitfield County ranks second among 159 Georgia counties in cases per 100,000 residents.

Also on Tuesday, the nine-county region A in North Georgia (which includes Whitfield and Murray counties) reported its intensive care unit beds at 100% capacity — all 42 beds — with 35% of those patients stricken with COVID-19. In the region, 21 adult ventilators were in use (22.3% capacity). Of 338 general inpatient beds in the region, 278 beds — 82.25% — were in use.

So the need to stay at home — and away from New Year's Eve parties — continues to be of crucial importance.

"The safest way to celebrate the new year is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you or virtually with friends and family," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. Travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19 or the flu."

The CDC suggests having virtual celebrations along with these ideas:

• Watch a live-streamed fireworks display, concert, First Night event or other New Year’s programming from your home, such as the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop. Virtual events are happening across the United States.

• Take care of yourself and do something you enjoy, such as reading a book or going for a walk.

• Pick up a special meal from a local restaurant to share with your household.

• Plan an outdoor activity with people you live with such as a hike or sledding.

• Set New Year resolutions. Find out if your hometown is sponsoring a special social media event and share your resolutions.

The urge to ring in the New Year and say so long to a very trying 2020 may be high, but the responsible action is to stay at home and enjoy a small gathering with your immediate family. There will be plenty of time for celebrations after the pandemic is behind us.

For more information on New Year's gatherings, go to www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/new-years-eve.html.

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