Celebrate Safely This Holiday Season

The holiday season, with its tradition of bringing families and friends together, is fast approaching. However, as we plan for fall and winter holiday celebrations, how do we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers valuable holiday guidance to help you lower the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Celebrating virtually or only with members of your own household poses the lowest risk for spread. However, if you are organizing a larger, more traditional gathering, or planning to attend one, please be mindful of the higher risk of virus spread based on the type and size of the event, as well as strategies in place to help mitigate those risks.

Here are some things you should be aware of:

  • Community levels of COVID-19 – Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, as well as where attendees are coming from, increases the risk of infection and spread among attendees.
  • The location of the gathering – Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings.
  • The duration of the gathering – Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • The number of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people.
  • The locations attendees are traveling from – Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area.
  • The behaviors of attendees prior to and during the gathering – Gatherings with attendees who are not adhering to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask wearing, hand washing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventive behaviors.

Are you hosting a holiday gathering?

If you’re planning to host a holiday event, you should:

  • Remind guests to stay home if they are sick – Invited guests should stay home if they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days or are showing symptoms.
  • Encourage social distancing – Host your gathering outdoors, when possible. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated. Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing.
  • Wear masks – Wear masks properly when less than 6 feet apart from people or indoors. Consider providing masks for guests or asking them to bring their own.
  • Clean hands often – Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when entering and exiting social gatherings. Make sure there is adequate soap or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol available.
  • Limit the number of people handling or serving food – Encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks. If serving any food, consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.

Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items – Use touchless garbage cans and clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use.

Are you going to an event?

If you are planning to attend a holiday gathering, you should:

  • Prepare before you go – Stay home if you are not feeling well, have been diagnosed, are awaiting test results or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Bring extra supplies (e.g., hand sanitizer, masks, etc.) to help you and others stay healthy.
  • Use social distancing and limit physical contact – Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or more from people who don’t live in your household. Consider arriving early or at off-peak times to avoid crowding.
  • Wear masks – Doing so minimizes the risk of transmitting the virus.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items – Avoid any self-serve food or drink options and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer immediately before eating food or after touching any common surfaces.

Are you planning to travel this holiday season?

Traveling increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you decide to travel, following the basic measures of wearing a mask in public settings, avoiding close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart, washing your hands and avoiding touching your face will help keep you and those around you safer. Also consider whether COVID-19 is spreading at your destination. The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus to others when you return.

You should also know whether your destination has requirements or restrictions for travelers. Some state, local, and territorial governments have requirements, such as requiring those who recently traveled to quarantine for up to 14 days. Check state, territorial, tribal and local public health websites for information before you travel. If you are traveling internationally, check the destination’s Office of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Health or the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Country Information page for details about entry requirements and restrictions for arriving travelers, such as mandatory testing or quarantine.

It’s Time to Man Up – Put Men’s Health on the Radar

November is Men’s Health Awareness Month. While the life expectancy of a man has increased in modern times, the average life expectancy for men in the United States is almost five years less than women. Research shows men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year. It’s time to man up and make men’s health a priority.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death for men. These conditions can see a reduced risk if men can adopt healthy eating habits and apply small lifestyle changes.

  • Eat a healthy diet. This includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, which have vitamins and minerals that help protect from chronic diseases. Limit foods high in calories, sugar, salt or fat.
  • Live an active lifestyle. Regular physical activity has many benefits including helping to control weight and reduce the risk for disease. It is also link with better mental health and mood.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress. Over time, stress can take a toll on emotional and physical health. Find ways to relax and de-stress, such as exercise, meditation or massage.
  • Get a good night’s rest. Sleep is important for feeling and functioning.
  • See your doctor for regular check-ups and recommended screenings. Follow your doctor’s guidance on regular screenings for colon cancer, prostate cancer or lung cancer.

Need help finding a physician? Visit stjoeshealth.org/find-a-doctor.

Helping Youth During an Unexpected Holiday Season

As we near the end of a year filled with unexpected challenges, the holiday season has arrived. For many, the holidays are typically a time of celebration and cheer, in large part because of the ability to spend time with those we love. Children especially embody the excitement of the season, often counting down the days to their favorite holiday. But, let’s face it, this year is different and they will feel it. We all do.

Fortunately, we as parents, guardians, and trusted adults, can help children navigate celebrating the holidays in midst of the pandemic. We can help them cope with the possibility of celebrating the holidays without important loved ones who live outside the home, as well as continued changes with schooling and routine.

How do we start? By listening.

“Listen to a child’s concerns and validate the feelings associated with them,” Elizabeth Block, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea said.  “Acknowledge that yes, this year is going to be different, and it’s okay to feel sad or disappointed. However, different does not have to mean ‘all bad.’ This is a great opportunity to promote resiliency in youth by teaching that it’s okay to acknowledge the loss of something, but also a chance to make the best of a tough situation.

Here’s some ideas for families to make this holiday season special:

  • Let each family member pick an activity that they enjoy for the holiday and everyone in the household participate
  • Emphasize that distance doesn’t need to stop us from showing other we care. Take time to create something special such as a homemade card or a video to send to loved ones you can’t gather with this year.
  • Find ways to show kindness to others – make cards for nursing home residents, support elderly neighbors with grocery shopping or snow shoveling, leave a note for a delivery driver or create messages for front-liner workers. Be creative!
  • Create an imaginary vacation where you provide special foods, virtual tours, books, arts and crafts that are representative of dream vacations.
  • Take decorating your home to a new extreme. Let your family make holiday decorations and help decide where they go. Create a holiday wonderland right inside your home.
  • Find the best holiday light decorations in your neighborhood and go for a tour. Bring along favorite snacks and play holiday music.

Finally, take care of YOURSELF. This has been a stressful year. Make time to relax, meditate, or go for a walk.

Even if you create new traditions and ways to enjoy the holidays, children may experience ongoing anxiety about the pandemic. Per the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about COVID-19 should be evaluated by a trained mental health professional. Signs that a child may need additional help include:

  • Difficulty with sleep or new changes to sleep patterns, like nightmares or frequent waking
  • Thoughts that are frightening or disruptive
  • Frequent talk or worries about illness or death
  • Reluctance to leave parents or go to school

If you have noticed such changes in your child, you can ask their doctor or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.

Additional Resources:

Rob Casalou Discusses COVID-19 on Podcast

Rob Casalou, President and CEO of Trinity Health Michigan

Trinity Heath Michigan President and CEO Rob Casalou appeared on Rich Helppie’s Common Bridge podcast to discuss the recent surge in Coronavirus that is spreading across the country and how it is impacting the hospitals.  They discuss the effectiveness of masks, social distancing, and how K-12 in person classrooms appear to not be a super spreader if normal precautions are taken.

Food Assistance Program at St. Joe’s Filling a Need

Do you have consistent access to healthy, affordable food? If not, you may be food insecure. According to Health.gov’s‘s Healthy People 2020, food insecurity can increase the risk of obesity, chronic illnesses and mental health challenges.  

Here at St. Joe’s, we are increasing the food security of our community through The Farm at St Joe’s, a working farm concept which started at St. Joe’s Ann Arbor and is now expanding across all of our hospitals. We grow food, provide hands-on education, and distribute fresh produce to our patients, visitors, staff and community. Here are some of the innovative ways we are helping our communities:

COVID-19 Food Assistance Program: In response to need due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Farm has started a collaborative food assistance program to serve homebound, food insecure patients and community members. Participants receive a bag of local produce and a bag of pantry staples delivered to their home for 6-12 weeks. We are grateful to our partners, Hope Clinic and Food Gatherers for making this program work. https://stjoesfarm.org/covid-food-assistance-program/

Subsidized Farm Share: Like a veggie subscription service, customers receive a box of local produce –a farm share–each week grown by 12 local farmers. Our subsidized program gives 36 weeks of free produce to food insecure families in our community. Not only do participants receive free, healthy food; they also try new foods, experiment with new recipes, and forge closer relationships with each other. This program is also an economic engine for our local food economy: in 2019, the program generated more than $100,000 of revenue for local farms. https://stjoesfarm.org/farmshare-plus/

Produce to Patients: The Farm donates the majority of the food it grows straight to our patients in need. Providers pick up boxes of produce each week and distribute it in their waiting rooms, in nutrition classes, and as patients are discharged from the hospital. The Farm donated enough food for 4,200 patients in 2019.

Market Connection: Qualifying families can get $100 in online store credit to use on the Ypsi Area Online Market to buy local fruits and vegetables and other staples. The Ypsi Area Online Market is a virtual farmers market where you can buy local produce. Curbside pickup of orders is available at each location for safer no/low contact. This program is possible through the generous support of the Children’s Foundation of Michigan and the operational support of Growing Hope. https://stjoesfarm.org/home/the-farm-at-st-joes-market-connection/

Our Care for the Common Good Campaign is working toward a future where everyone has access to healthy food. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more, and sign our petition to  let your elected officials know that you believe in a future where no one is food insecure.  

The Holidays in 2020

Health reporter, Lila Lazarus shares her thoughts as the holidays approach during this pandemic.

Baby, it’s cold outside. The days are getting shorter and the holidays are looming larger… so is the lump in my throat. 

The call came about 15 minutes ago.  Four people at the assisted living facility where my 88-year-old Mom lives tested positive for COVID-19.  They assure me my Mom is safe and well cared for— but it’s little comfort. She’s isolated. Alone in her room. And, once again, I can’t see her.  

With the holidays just around the corner, I have to let go of any memories of family gatherings, holiday traditions, laughter filling the room. 2020 is not giving in. COVID-19 doesn’t care about the holidays.  My Mom is in lockdown and my siblings are spread out all over the world unable to fly home. With the numbers rising, they’re not traveling to me and I’m certainly not traveling to them.

What a year. Confusion. Fear. Disappointment. Anxiety. Stress. Helplessness. Canceled weddings and graduations. People lost their jobs. Businesses have gone under. Nearly 300,000 people have died from COVID-19… and now is the time we’re supposed to deck the halls and get ready for the holidays?!! The words Bah Humbug come to mind.

I’ve never thought of myself as a Scrooge but this year the isolation and feelings of exclusion have been so acute. So, here’s my question: How do we get through the season? How do we turn so many negatives into a positive? How do we feel connected and hopeful when we’re so separated? How do we celebrate when all we want is to get through this year in one piece?

2020 requires a reboot of what the holidays are all about. We’ll just have to spin new, safer ways to connect with family and friends. And connection really is the most important part. So, here’s my plan.  I call it the V-plan since everything starts with V. If you’re feeling anything like me, I hope it helps.

Value the Valuables:

The strategy I’m planning to use is the one that’s gotten me through every tough time I’ve ever experienced: Gratitude. I’m making a list and checking it twice. Loading it with all the things I’m grateful for. My health, my husband, my friends, my dogs, and the fact that I can still see my Mom through the window. The vaccine that’s coming. The sweet cashier at the grocery store. Zoom. Socially distanced walking with friends in the neighborhood. Whether we look for positives or negatives, we’ll find them.  So, seek out and savor the positives, the silver linings and silver bells. Relish every card that comes your way, the sparkle of every beautiful decoration.


People all around us are hungrier, lonelier and needier than we’ve ever seen. What can we do to help?  There’s no shortage of volunteer opportunities. And cheering up someone with a card, groceries or even just a call is a sure way to lift our spirits. I know I’m not the only one missing my family, so I plan to reach out to everyone I know who’s alone or lost their job or is struggling. This year, sending something tangible— flowers or food can really make a difference to someone who feels alone during the holidays. Plenty of websites can help set up a volunteer gig (VolunteerMatch.org or idealist.org).


Yes, I coined a new term. It’s virtual gifting. I’m sending gifts to friends and family with strict instructions to FaceTime me the moment it arrives so we can have a virtual holiday moment. It’s not ideal but it’s connection. I plan to record these moments to remember this crazy year. In an odd way, the pains of 2020 will no doubt make us appreciate so many things we’ve taken for granted most of our lives.


This holiday season, in addition to wearing my mask, washing my hands, and staying six feet apart, I’ll also focus on getting good sleep, eating well, exercising and laughing as much as possible. I can’t control the pandemic, or when I’ll be able to see my Mom, but I can focus on my health. And if you haven’t had your flu shot, go get it.  It’s more important this year than ever.  COVID-19 and the flu will be spreading at the same time.  A recent study showed getting both COVID-19 and influenza B will leave you even sicker than COVID-19 alone. Don’t take chances. I just got my flu shot and I’m glad I did.

View to the Future:

The only way to survive this storm is to know the rainbow is coming. We just can’t make the mistake of comparing 2020 to last year or any other year in our lives. This will be a holiday season like no other that we will never forget even if we want to. And come New Year’s Eve, I plan to stay up through midnight and watch the ball drop in an empty Times Square. It’s not the new year I want to see, I just want to make sure 2020 is over. 

P.S. Feel free to send a holiday greeting below. We could all use some cheerful thoughts.  Happy holidays.

Spicy 5-minute Broccoli


– 2 head of broccoli

– 1 tbsp red chili flakes

– 2 gloves of garlic, chopped

– 1 lemon, juiced

– Salt to taste


 Preheat oven to 450F.

 Dice garlic and let sit on your cutting board for a least ten minutes.

 Slice broccoli florets into thin slices. Place on a cooking sheet spread out so they are able to roast evenly.

 Top with red pepper flakes, garlic, and salt.

 Roast for 5 minutes.

 Remove and top with fresh lemon juice.

 Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable, is high in a special phytonutrient called sulforaphane which has been shown to be a strong aide to the body’s natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant pathways helping to prevent cancer and disease.

Quick Pumpkin Rice


– 1 can pumpkin puree

– 2 cups of brown rice

– 2.5 cups of vegetable broth

– 2.5 cups of water

– 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

– 1 onion, chopped

– 1 Tbsp Olive Oil

– Fresh herbs, topping


 Dice garlic and let sit on your cutting board for a least ten minutes.

 Dice the yellow onion and add with the garlic to a sauce pan with the garlic and oil. Sautee for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.

 Add the rice, vegetable broth, water, and pumpkin. Stir until combined.

 Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30-35 minutes.

 Top with fresh herbs like sage or rosemary.

Pumpkin can be substituted for any hard squash which is readily available this time of year such as butternut, acorn, or blue hubbard. You can add cooked squash in place of pumpkin puree to this recipe, deep orange squash like pumpkin is high in fiber and beta-carotene.

Dr. Anissa Mattison, OB/GYN, Shares Why She Trusts St. Joe’s Oakland for Her Patients’ Care

By Anissa Mattison, DO, OB/GYN at Mercy Women’s Center

I am an OB/GYN at St. Joe’s Oakland. It means everything to me that I am able to provide my patients with every advantage possible. St. Joe’s Oakland is one of the most technologically advanced facilities in the U.S. – ranked in the U.S. News and World Report Most Wired. It has world-class birthing and NICU facilities; the newest mammography technologies; cancer research and therapies; and state-of-the-art surgical equipment surrounded by a healing environment and staff who care.

Every day I choose to send my patients to St. Joe’s because this facility is simply the best option for my patients at every turn, delivering world-class comprehensive care in their own backyard.

Bedside Voting Services Offered for Patients Hospitalized Near Election Day

The hospital is not likely a place patients want to be, especially during an important election. At Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and Mercy Health, we want to do everything possible to make our patients’ stays healing and calm.

For registered voters who unexpectedly find themselves in the hospital near Election Day, there may still be an opportunity to cast a vote, even if they have not applied for an absentee ballot. There is a provision in Michigan law for an EMERGENCY absentee ballot, allowing them the opportunity to make an absentee ballot request if they cannot attend the polls due to:

  • Personal injury or illness
  • A family death or illness that requires you to leave your community for the entire time the polls are open on Election Day (such as a hospitalization)

The emergency must have occurred after 5 p.m. the Friday prior to the election (10/30).

To request an emergency absentee ballot, patients will need to have someone they trust deliver their absentee ballot application to their City or Township clerk’s office before 4 p.m. on Election Day. Completed ballots must be returned to the clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

To learn more, visit the Michigan Secretary of State site here.