School of Public Health

SPH news

Visitus A
Posted Date: November 19, 2020

By Sally Crocker

PrintThe Master of Health Administration (MHA) program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) has achieved the highest, seven-year re-accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME).

The HSC School of Public Health has been recognized as providing the first and only CAHME-accredited MHA program based in North Texas since 2013, giving students a career advantage and assuring that the program has met rigorous review for quality standards that only certain schools achieve. CAHME has been recognized as the standard of excellence and the benchmark in healthcare management education for more than 50 years.


Dr. Arthur Mora

CAHME is a premier, global professional accrediting board that reviews programs educating healthcare administrators. CAHME is fully recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accrediting (CHEA). The CAHME review process is voluntary – universities that go the extra step to achieve accreditation are rigorously monitored for excellence and continuous quality improvement.

“Employers look for assurance that graduates’ learning and experience have prepared them well for the wide variety of management responsibilities they will encounter in their career,” said MHA Program Director Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE. “This designation distinguishes our program and aligns with our vision to be the trusted leader in providing healthcare management talent to North Texas and beyond that helps advance the health of communities.”

“We are very proud of our program, faculty and partners who are committed to providing a valuable learning experience at HSC, as we applaud the outstanding efforts of our students and alumni who are accomplishing great things in their careers,” he said.

Dr. Davis joined HSC as MHA Program Director in May 2020.

Dr. Stephan Davis

Dr. Stephan Davis

“So much of the credit for this CAHME accomplishment goes to the guidance of Arthur Mora, PhD, Chair of Health Behavior and Health Systems, for his work over the last year with the re-accreditation teams, SPH leadership, faculty and others who helped support the process,” Dr. Davis said. “Preparing for a rigorous review like this involves considerable time and effort.”

This year, the MHA program made strides in other important areas as well, formalizing a partnership with the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) to become the first MHA program in the nation to fully integrate a curriculum pathway toward the Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) credential.

A new Executives in Residence program is also being introduced, to connect students with high-profile, healthcare leadership authors, speakers, thought leaders and executives, to open up new perspectives and further enhance their learning experience.

The program also offers a part-time MHA Online option for working professionals interested in advancing their career options while continuing to work full-time in their field.

Erika Thompson
Posted Date: November 19, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Erika Thompson

Dr. Erika Thompson

Hundreds of thousands of families across the U.S. struggle with homelessness each year. Living on the streets, in cars, at shelters or temporarily bunking up with others poses many risks and challenges, greatly intensified this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erika Thompson, PhD, Assistant Professor at the HSC School of Public Health and Maternal and Child Health MPH Program Director, is a partner with the Center for Transforming Lives (CTL), a local agency providing homeless services, early childhood development, childcare, economic stability programs and other resources to those in need. CTL has stepped up in 2020 to respond to the added burdens on mothers and children during the pandemic.

Dr. Thompson is an epidemiologist and community-based researcher, focused on finding public health solutions to the challenges faced by women and children. She recently spoke at a CTL Virtual Lecture Series event about her work, community collaborations and how COVID has made many of the challenges even more difficult for these families. Her presentation, on “Exploring the Journey for Homeless Women,” can be found on YouTube.

“COVID has had a profound effect on all the population, in terms of both mental and physical health and well-being,” Dr. Thompson said. “It’s a difficult time for everyone, while for mothers experiencing homelessness, the burdens are greatly intensified.”

“The negative stresses of homelessness impact both body and mind, often with long-lasting health consequences for the mother and child, even as children move into adolescence and adulthood. Some kids are more resilient and able to overcome certain stressors, but for many, the experience can impact mental and physical health throughout their lifetime,” she explained.

Pre-COVID, Dr. Thompson led research teams, funded in part by United Way of Tarrant County, to meet women where they were in their journey, spending time on the streets and in shelters to conduct personal interviews and learn where they needed help in navigating the healthcare system, securing housing and childcare services, connecting with workforce training and employment assistance, and accessing community resources for food, daily living supplies and other support.

“It takes a village to serve this population,” Dr. Thompson said. “The work of so many in the community – agencies, volunteers, donors, local advocacy efforts, the commitment to women’s and children’s health – is needed even more now during COVID-19.”

CTL reports that more than 7,000 children under age 6 will experience homelessness in Tarrant County this year, and national data show that the number homeless mothers in need of assistance has grown considerably during the pandemic. Job losses in a destabilized economy, potential for evictions, family struggles and other factors are severely challenging this already overburdened population.

“2.65 million women have left the U.S. workforce since February, with many facing difficult choices in how to find their way right now. The pressures are enormous,” Dr. Thompson said. “It’s hard to be solely responsible for the care and well-being of your children in an environment of upheaval where you yourself don’t feel safe, certain or secure.”

In many ways, Dr. Thompson said, systems and shelters are more apt to focus on the adult male, typically seen as most representative of the homeless population. Women and children tend to be overlooked in the traditional view of homeless individuals, although research reflects that up to 84% of families experiencing homelessness are those led by the mother.

Safety is a big issue for these women, as is the hardship of what Dr. Thompson calls “public parenting.”

“Some moms are living and parenting in their cars, in crowded motels or temporary-stay hotel rooms, in other people’s homes for a while, or in shelters with many other families,” she said. “Parenting under unstable living circumstances strips away privacy and adds even more pressure to all that the family has been through.”

Many women go through multiple living situations in their journey, sometimes transitioning 4-5 times in a year.

There is also a lot of fear among these moms – fear for safety, of being judged, of their kids being exposed to situations they shouldn’t be, of having their children taken away. For some of these women, the best choice seems to be living in their cars.

The experience is characterized by transitions and instability.

In collaboration with local agencies like CTL and others, researchers like Dr. Thompson work to find solutions for these families, from food, housing, transportation and cash assistance programs to child care services, technology and Wi-Fi connections for school-age children, health provider networks, social and mental health services, vocational programs and more.

“The full spectrum involves recognizing the complete family unit and the complexity of their needs. Many of these families are having to navigate each of these processes separately to just meet the basics of daily living,” Dr. Thompson said. “The more we learn about their journey and where they need the most help, the better we can serve them.”

Partnerships with different support organizations and an opportunity to work directly in the community are most important for a public health researcher helping to drive change, she said.

“There are so many mothers doing the very best they can to succeed in this community, to build lives that are independent, where they can fulfill their dreams,” noted Carol Klocek, CTL Executive Director and CEO.

“We’ve seen some amazing women come through this journey into education programs, living wage jobs, places to raise their families and rebuild their lives,” Klocek said. “Our collaboration with Dr. Thompson, the HSC School of Public Health and other dedicated community partners is truly making a difference for these families.”

Apha Logo
Posted Date: November 10, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Apha LogoSPH students, faculty and staff were active in this year’s Annual Meeting and Expo of the American Public Health Association (APHA), with PhD student Anna Galvin (PhD in Public Health Sciences, Health Behavior Research) winning the Public Health Education and Health Promotion student award contest. Galvin was one of 15 students selected nationally for this honor and was invited to provide an oral presentation of her research on “Assessing Cervical Cancer Screening Adherence Using a Multidimensional Health Literacy Framework.”

Epidemiology PhD student Ashvita Garg received the Lyndon Haviland Student Assembly Annual Meeting Scholarship, presenting a poster for her research on “Predictors of Pap-HPV Co-Testing and Pap Testing Among Women in the United States: Results from the National Health Interview Survey.”

PhD candidate Jonathan Moore, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, shared a poster presentation on “Racial Differences in Hepatitis C Virus Infection Among Baby Boomers Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).”

HSC TESSA Program Manager Jessica Grace, LMSW, presented with a panel of Dallas-Fort Worth area speakers on the efforts of healthcare entities in screening for Intimate Partner Violence, in a conference session titled “Is technology the answer? Examining the successes and challenges of tablet based IPV screening in primary care settings.” Grace shared information about TESSA and the program’s screenings in primary care clinics. She was joined by speakers from JPS Health System, Parkland Health & Hospital System, UT Southwestern Medical Center Dallas and Texas Health Resources. TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) is a program of the HSC School of Public Health that collaborates with local health providers, community resources, agencies and advocate services to help screen for, identify and address the needs of interpersonal violence victims. TESSA is designed to give a voice to victims of interpersonal violence and help these individuals feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to.

SPH Assistant Professor Stacey Griner, PhD, MPH, also presented at this year’s conference, sharing her research on self-sampling methods for sexually transmitted screening. Her presentation focused on the use of these innovative methods for women who are survivors of sexual assault.

The SPH’s collaborative efforts with community partners were also highlighted at the conference.

Assistant Professor and MPH Maternal and Child Health Program Director Erika Thompson, PhD, MPH, presented a poster on “Navigating the system for families experiencing homelessness,” as part of a collaborative effort with local partners Carol Klocek and Heather Lowe at the Center for Transforming Lives and HSC colleagues Anna Galvin, Danielle Rohr and Dr. Emily Spence.

Dr. Thompson also presented at a roundtable on “Validation of a child physical and sexual abuse prevention scale for a school-based prevention program,” which was a collaborative effort with partners Katharine Collier-Esser and Deborah Caddy at the Women’s Center of Tarrant County and HSC colleagues Ashvita Garg, alumna Sarah Matthes, Danielle Rohr and Dr. Emily Spence.

Dr Stacey Griner
Posted Date: November 3, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Dr Stacey Griner

Dr. Stacey Griner

HSC Assistant Professor Stacey Griner, PhD, MPH, has been appointed to serve a three-year term for the American Public Health Association (APHA) as Section Councilor in the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Section. Appointments are made through peer elections.

Since 1975, SRH, formerly known as the Population, Reproductive and Sexual Health Section, has worked to improve the health and well-being of women, men and children. The SRH Section strives to build bridges between local and global reproductive health issues, between research and public policy and advocacy, and across academic disciplines and professions. SRH seeks to ensure that sexual and reproductive health remain major domestic and international priorities.

Dr. Griner is involved in a number of North Texas community-based sexual and reproductive health collaborations, including serving as Treasurer for the Tarrant County Infant Health Network.

At HSC, she serves as Director of the MPH Public Health Leadership program and focuses her research and teaching on maternal and child health and human sexuality and reproductive health.

Dr. Griner recently led a School of Public Health team at HSC that received an Innovative Teaching Award from the Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health (ATMCH) for development of course materials addressing sexual and gender minority healthcare needs.

APHA Section Councilors make recommendations on the APHA Annual Meeting program, act on Section membership and policies, formulate rules of procedure for the Section, advise on the publication of papers and reports, advise the APHA Executive Board on issues, and assist in preparing annual work plans of the Section.

APHA’s mission is to improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status, as a champion for the health of all people and all communities.

Cultural Competency
Posted Date: October 27, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Cultural CompetencyMore than 16 million people in the U.S. identify as sexual and gender minorities (SGM). The healthcare needs of these populations are different, especially in terms of reproductive health.

Visiting a health provider or accessing services has never been a one-size-fits-all experience. A lot depends on how included, respected and comfortable a patient feels.

The SGM community has often been overlooked when it comes to Maternal and Child Health (MCH) care, prompting a team from the HSC School of Public Health to want to make a difference in this area.

Through an Innovative Teaching Award from the Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health (ATMCH), HSC Assistant Professors Stacey Griner, PhD, MPH, and Erica C. Spears, PhD, MA, have developed MCH graduate course materials for Advancing Cultural Competence toward Sexual and Gender Minorities that are now available nationally as a resource to educators. HSC graduate Smriti Maskey (SPH ’20) assisted in the project.

HSC’s MPH concentration in Maternal and Child Health prepares professionals from a variety of backgrounds for leadership roles in organizations focused on promoting the health of women, children and families.

Stacey Griner

Dr. Stacey Griner

“We had MPH students in mind as we developed this lecture and activities,” Dr. Griner said.

“A lot of research has been conducted on cultural competence and its important role in delivering health services and programs, but many people, educators and providers included, are uncomfortable or unsure about ways of addressing sexual orientation, gender identity, and the reproductive and maternal and child health needs of the SGM community.”

Cultural competence has to do with relationships, communication and respect for the diverse lives and backgrounds of others. Studies have shown that tailoring healthcare and public health services through cultural competence can go a long way in reducing health disparities and improving patient outcomes.

“We’ve all heard of the golden rule,” Dr. Griner said. “Through cultural competence, the focus shifts to the ‘platinum rule’ of treating people how they want to be treated.”

Health disparities among African American, Hispanic and other marginalized populations have been exacerbated in 2020 by the effects of the COVID pandemic and widening cultural divides. For SGM members of these already-at-risk populations who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, queer or questioning, the public health challenges are even greater.

“It’s marginalization inside marginalization; many of the health disparities experiences of race, culture, sexual orientation and gender identity intersect among these groups,” said Dr. Spears, a public health researcher dedicated to finding solutions for communities of color.

“There has been a lack of community acceptance because people don’t fit the boxes. People want to be respected and treated as their full selves, but that’s not widely happening yet. Even the registration forms for visiting a provider or accessing healthcare services can be discouraging if the pronoun choices don’t fit appropriately for the individual.”

In any population, there are different segments with different needs.

Heads Up

Dr. Erica Spears

“In terms of the current social justice issues facing our world, there are many different hashtags,” Dr. Spears said. “For African Americans, that might mean Black Lives Matter, Black Trans Lives Matter, Black Women Matter and others, each a different community with its own stories, its own need to be recognized.”

“I would like to think we would have been doing this anyway in public health and healthcare, treating people as they wish and need to be treated, but we’re not there yet,” she said.

As a School of Public Health student involved in helping to develop and test the course lecture and materials, Maskey said she sees SGM cultural competence as especially important for professionals interacting with patients and community populations.

“Many people may be afraid to disclose their orientation for fear of bias or not receiving the services they need,” she said. “For students and future maternal and child health leaders, it’s critical to put cultural sensitivities into practice, to hopefully improve systems for the future and better meet people where they are in their own lives.”

The course lecture is already in use at HSC and can be downloaded by any educator through the ATMCH website.

“Cultural competency isn’t something new – it’s been important for a very long time,” Maskey said.

“We all want and need a meaningful experience with our provider and when navigating health-related services, to be met honestly and openly as who we are. That’s the heart of respect and communication in any setting, and especially in healthcare and public health.”

Scott Walters
Posted Date: October 20, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Scott WaltersA special issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence has been released, profiling the efforts of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study to address the nation’s opioid crisis.

$350 million in funding has been committed to this program between 2019-2022 in what is notably the largest implementation science study ever conducted in the field of addiction.

Scott Walters, PhD, Regents Professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC), is Steering Committee Chair of this program – the HEALing Communities Study (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) – developed through a partnership of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and SAMHSA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The study will create a national model to address the opioid crisis by speeding solutions and reducing opioid deaths in 67 highly impacted communities across four states – Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New York – representing more than 10 million people.

Over the last year, research sites at the University of Kentucky, Boston Medical Center, Columbia University and Ohio State University have been testing the implementation of a set of evidence-based strategies, with Dr. Walters managing the project from a national perspective.

The just-published, special edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence contains 10 research papers on the HEALing Communities’ work over the last year, including the NIH vision and study protocol, implementation methods and measurement. Dr. Walters is one of three guest editors for the issue, along with NIDA and SAMHSA scientific directors. The entire edition is provided as open access, subscription-free, to the public.

“This special issue is important scientifically because of the scope of the problem and breadth of the study,” Dr. Walters said. “In 2017, almost 48,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. More people died from opioid overdose than from car accidents. The irony is that all of this is preventable. There are proven strategies to reduce opioid use disorder and overdose.”

“As staggering as these numbers are, they are likely underestimates,” Dr. Walters said. “The U.S. has more than 2 million people with an opioid use disorder. It’s hard to imagine the damage that does to families and communities.”

Small gains in reducing those numbers that were achieved prior to 2020 were washed away this year as the nation struggled with anxiety, stress and negative mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sharp increases in overdose in the last six months have greatly affected the course of the HEALing Communities study,” Dr. Walters noted. “As we work to solve one crisis in the middle of a second crisis, we are creating a model for future ‘twindemics’ in the new world that exists right now.”

“We already know what works to reduce overdose and opioid use disorder – notably medication to help with recovery, and naloxone to reverse overdoses and safer prescribing practices. This study tests the implementation of those evidence-based practices, and ways to help a community actually put them into practice,” he added.

Healing Comms Bus Ad

Transit ads are a part of HEALing Communities public service campaigns in some communities

Dr. Walters likens these efforts to a “one, two, three punch,” with community engagement, a menu of evidence-based practices and communications campaigns to reduce the stigma around seeking help and increase demand for services.

“We’ve been able to capitalize on some aspects of the pandemic, for instance building attendance at community coalition meetings by taking them online, and ‘fast tracking’ distribution of naloxone to people released early from jail,” Dr. Walters noted. “We accelerated certain efforts, along with our accompanying media campaigns, to respond to the challenges of the pandemic.”

The new Drug and Alcohol Dependence issue detailing the HEALing Communities’ work is consistent with the study’s goal to share information with other researchers.

“We want to conduct this project in a glass house, sharing methods as we are able, describing how communities are engaging, how our media campaigns drive demand, and showing better ways to measure outcomes,” Dr. Walters said.

“No state has been immune to the effects of the opioid epidemic. We all benefit from the work being done to offer new hope for individuals, families and communities impacted by this devastating public health crisis.”

Read more here about the HEALing Communities study in this special issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.


Examples of HEALing Communities public service campaigns across different states:

Healing Comms Sample Campaign Ny Healing Comms Sample Naloxone Campaign


Posted Date: October 12, 2020

Dr. Erika Thompson, SPH Assistant Professor and MPH Maternal and Child Health Program Director, will be the featured speaker at an October 20 online event – “Exploring the Journey for Homeless Mothers” – through the Center for Transforming Lives Lecture Series. This event is free and open to the public as part of the agency’s quarterly conversations with North Texas community leaders, researchers and advocates.


For more information and to register, please click anywhere in the image above.

Dr. Stephan Davis
Posted Date: October 8, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Dr. Stephan DavisThe Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, with contributions from the HSC School of Public Health, has released a set of recommendations for building a culture of fairness, respect and inclusion in health professions learning environments.

SPH Assistant Professor and MHA Program Director Stephan Davis, DNP, MHSA, FACHE, contributed to the Foundation’s report and development of four broad recommendations and specific action steps for addressing forms of harmful bias and eliminating discrimination, to make diversity, equity and inclusion top priorities in learning environments and in practice.

Dr. Davis is a recognized nursing leader, healthcare executive and educator who is active in a number of national organizations, including serving as Chair for the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) LGBTQ Forum. He also serves as Co-Chair of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee for the School of Public Health.

The Macy Foundation is dedicated solely to improving health professions education, based on the principle that these fields have at their core a strong social mission to serve the public’s needs and improve health.

“HSC is committed to promoting an understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Dr. Davis said. “We are working together across campus and in partnership with other organizations to equip the public health and health professionals of tomorrow as they prepare to meet the needs of a dynamic global society.”

The Macy Foundation report and recommendations were initiated at the organization’s 2020 conference earlier this year, with input from more than 40 faculty, student and leadership representatives of medical and nursing schools and universities like HSC. Dr. Davis represented the HSC School of Public Health and MHA program. The report was revised and refined in recent months and formally released in September.

“Preparing future health and public health professionals for their important roles in society involves both curriculum and crucial conversations focusing on the ways that racism and other forms of bias can harm people’s health, influence decisions that perpetuate inequities and threaten lives,” Dr. Davis said.

“We have seen the devastating impacts of health inequity and social injustice unfold in tragic, unimaginable ways this year within Black communities, bringing national focus to the need for solutions. It’s time.”

Seeking to eliminate harmful bias and discrimination in the classroom and addressing ways that these issues manifest in professional and clinical environments, contributors to the Macy Foundation report developed four recommendations for the nation’s medical, nursing and health professions schools:

  • Build an institutional culture of fairness, respect and anti-racism by making diversity, equity and inclusion top priorities.
  • Develop, assess and improve systems to mitigate harmful biases and eliminate racism and all other forms of discrimination.
  • Integrate equity into health professions curricula, explicitly aiming to mitigate the harmful effects of bias, exclusion, discrimination, racism and all other forms of oppression.
  • Increase the numbers of health professions students, trainees, faculty and institutional administrators and leaders from historically marginalized and excluded populations.

Aligned with HSC’s campus-wide commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the School of Public Health’s EDI committee is already working on initiatives corresponding to the Macy Foundation recommendations and action steps.

Read more about the Macy Foundation report here.

Covid Holiday
Posted Date: October 5, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Covid Holiday

Fall and winter holidays have a different feel during COVID-19 as families consider the safest ways to celebrate their usual traditions with friends, neighbors and loved ones.

It’s still possible to enjoy the season during the pandemic, says HSC’s Dr. Diana Cervantes, by approaching your plans and festivities in creative, new ways.

“Even though our world is different right now, people still want to maintain their traditions with those who are closest to them,” she said. “By practicing safe COVID guidelines and rethinking the possibilities, there’s no reason to have to miss the big events you enjoy celebrating each year.”

An Assistant Professor and Director of the HSC School of Public Health MPH Epidemiology Program, Dr. Cervantes is considered one of Tarrant County’s trusted experts on COVID-19 safety, offering the community a steady stream of information and advice these last several months based on public health guidance and science.

FallcovidHalloween is all about masks anyway, so why not create your own this year,” she suggests.

“Kids can have fun designing cloth or surgical masks in clever ways. It only requires a few craft supplies you can order online.”

Going big with your decorations both inside and out is also a good way to get in the “spirit,” she said, and the more elaborate your lights, sounds, effects and front-yard scenes, the better.

Socially distanced costume parades on bicycles can be a great way to shift the focus away from group gatherings on neighbors’ doorsteps. Individual, small bags or cups of candy set outside on a festive table, or in strategic places around the front lawn, are good ways of distributing treats during the pandemic.

“It’s just not the time for all those little hands to reach into the same candy bowl,” Dr. Cervantes said.

Zoom costume parties and virtual pumpkin-carving contests are other ideas she suggests this year.

Thanksgiving is another big holiday just around the corner, and many families are approaching this one in unique ways as well.

“The safest way to get together in person is outside, in small groups of no more than 10,” Dr. Cervantes said. “Even with the Zoom exhaustion many people seem to be feeling right now, virtual events are also good choices.”

Cervantes Diana

Dr. Diana Cervantes

“Maintaining holiday traditions as safely as possible has a positive impact on mental health and can provide some much-needed relief to the pandemic isolation of the last several months.”

Bringing everyone into the planning makes it more of a “together” event. Dr. Cervantes recommends having honest conversations about your personal comfort levels and “non-negotiables.”

“If something doesn’t feel safe to you, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns,” she said. “We all want to be sensitive to the health of others, especially older adults, those with underlying health conditions and people at higher risk. It’s always your choice to skip an event, or to set the guidelines if you’re the host.”

Outdoor parties should have backup weather plans in place, including alternate rain dates and ways to keep warm if temperatures get chilly.

Social distancing, with tables set six feet apart for guests from different households, is still the recommendation, and masks should be available and easily accessible if someone has to go inside or be within close distance of other guests, especially those at high risk like the elderly.

“I like to provide ‘pandemic preparedness party packs’ for each table, with hand sanitizers, disposable napkins, masks in case they forget theirs and other items they might need,” Dr. Cervantes suggests.

Plans can include disposable plates and cutlery, with plenty of outdoor trashcans in strategic places. To further minimize risk, guests should avoid sharing drinks and food. Brainstorm ways to keep smaller kids occupied and in their own space.

“Kids like to hug, and especially if they haven’t seen grandparents or other relatives in a while, it can be a challenge,” Dr. Cervantes said. “Consider table games, puzzles, crafts, contests, bingo, an outdoor movie or other interesting options.”

Bathrooms pose a lot of questions during COVID. The best way to set yours up, Dr. Cervantes recommends, is with paper towels and liquid soap. Remove cloth towels and place an extra trashcan outside the door, so guests can avoid touching doorknobs and handles by grabbing a spare paper towel on the way out. Designate only one bathroom for guests, and limit access to the rest of the house.

“You’ll want to clean all high-touch surfaces after the party, and smaller kids will likely need extra handwashing reminders as they come and go,” she said.

If your party absolutely must move indoors, be sure guests stay socially distanced and wear masks except when eating or drinking, and do all you can to increase ventilation, including opening windows.

“Limit exposure by limiting your time together,” Dr. Cervantes recommends. “It’s helpful to designate one person to be the ‘bad guy’ focused on the time and the rules. People lose their inhibitions the longer parties go, especially if drinking is involved. Someone to end the party in a gracious way, or even to remind people to spread out or wash their hands, really helps.”

Many families and friends have joined in small “social bubbles” this year, so they can feel safer getting together with others who are social distancing in the same ways they are.

“For holiday events, that might mean that everyone quarantines 14 days prior, only going out for quick essential errands, and that they are not running a temperature, haven’t recently traveled or been in large crowds, and are symptom free,” Dr. Cervantes said.

December holidays should follow these same recommendations. Virtual cookie baking nights and tree-trimming from different households, holiday trivia games via Zoom or charades online are all great for including friends and family both nearby and miles apart. Even this year’s New Year’s Eve countdown from Times Square, a longtime New York tradition watched by millions around the world, has gone virtual.

“The goal is for no one to get sick. On average, the spread of COVID is more than one-to-one; a single person can infect 2-3 others,” Dr. Cervantes said. “You don’t have to feel sick to expose someone.”

“This isn’t a forever thing, it’s our way of keeping our friends and loved ones especially safe right now. It’s about all of us working together and doing our best for the health of everyone.”

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