From gifts to get-togethers, Dr. Russell's top tips for getting through Christmas safely

·5 min read
From gifts to get-togethers, Dr. Russell's top tips for getting through Christmas safely

Who had "How to completely isolate my Christmas guests" on their Bingo card at the beginning of this year?

That's right. Nobody.

But that's the reality we're dealing this pandemic holiday season, and the kind of question the province's health authorities are fielding on a daily basis.

At the COVID-briefing on Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell and Premier Blaine Higgs repeatedly stressed the potential perils of Christmas gatherings and the importance of staying safe over the holidays.

"We're very, very, very, very concerned about the holiday season" and about seeing increases in cases in January if people let their guard down over the holidays, Russell said.

We asked Russell for her top safety tips for New Brunswickers and also about her own plans for the holidays.

An early Christmas with family in Bathurst

Russell, who will be in Miramichi this weekend for the province's first COVID-19 vaccine clinics, said she'll be having an early Christmas at her parents' home in Bathurst on Sunday.

Her two teenage children will come with her — they're "very excited" about seeing their grandparents — and they'll all have an early Christmas dinner together.

Asked about what's on the menu, Russell chuckled ruefully.

"Well, Mom wants to make the traditional turkey, but she just had surgery, so I want her to sit on the couch," she said. "I suggested a frozen roll turkey with stuffing, and I think she was horrified."

Her parents have already made some meat pies, "a tradition for us," she said.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, she'll be at home in Fredericton with relatives and her "significant other" – unless there's a COVID-19 outbreak. In that case, she said, "I'll be working."

Submitted by Public Health
Submitted by Public Health

Russell and Higgs both acknowledged that, "after the year we've all had," everyone is looking forward to the holidays and many are wondering what to give to loved ones.

They both had some suggestions on that front.

"Buy New Brunswick-made gifts" and support New Brunswick business owners, Higgs advised.

Russell suggested something that won't even need wrapping.

"I suggest that the best gift that you can give is the gift of safety," she said.

But how, exactly, do you do that?

Here, from the top doctor herself, are tips on how to do everything from gift-giving to get-togethers safely:



Informal gatherings of up to 20 people are permitted in the yellow phase, but you must keep your contacts to your "steady 20," the same 20 people — and fewer would be even better.

However, Russell said, "we know that gatherings are a risk and we want those risks to be kept to a minimum."

"The second wave of COVID-19 now engulfing much of our country can, in many cases, be traced back" to Thanksgiving gatherings here and in the U.S., where people failed to self-isolate or had many large numbers of close contacts.


Remember to stick to your "steady 20" list of close contacts, and if hosting guests from outside of the province, they must have a 14-day self-isolation plan.

With Christmas less than one week away, that will mean any guests arriving from here on will have to wait till the new year to celebrate with you.


Russell says she gets asked about this again and again.

"People say 'My family members are coming from another province, why can't I just self-isolate with them?' No. That's not safe. You can get infected with visiting family members ... and we know that can result in very serious consequences."

The safest way to self-isolate is to stay in a location by yourself, such as at a rental property, cottage, hotel or airbnb.

If you have to self-isolate in a home with others, Russell said, "it is very important" that you're separated from others at all times. Specifically, that means:

"There's no hugging. You stay six feet apart. You stay in different rooms. You stay in different bedrooms. You do not share a bathroom, you do not share meals together and you wear a mask at all times" until the 14-day isolation period is over.


The bottom line is simply this: non-essential travel to or from New Brunswick is not advised.

"There's not really a safe place you can travel from that we wouldn't be concerned about you arriving here," Russell said. "The risks to travelling are great, because the numbers are so high across the country."

For those who do choose to come to New Brunswick, you must plan to self-isolate for 14 days and you must register your travel at least five days before you arrive, at


What if you're given a gift by someone outside your household? Do you have to leave it untouched for several days to avoid any possible lingering COVID-19 virus on the package?

"The risk is low," Russell said, but if you're worried about it, there is no harm in "isolating" your gift in another room for two to three days.

A good mantra: When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Get outside

This is a free gift that you can and should give to yourself, as often as possible.

"So many people worked so hard this year, it's been a tough year for all of us," Russell said. "So I really hope everybody can really get a break over Christmas, a break from the stress, a break from their phones and social media, and get outside and get some fresh air. It's good for you, and so important for your mental health."