How to celebrate the holidays during the pandemic
Here are tips for how to preserve holiday traditions while also protecting yourself, family, and friends from COVID-19
By Laurie Brentlinger, Assistant Vice President of Infection Control and Prevention, Nuvance Health
- Many people are rethinking their holiday traditions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
- Decisions about where and how to celebrate the holidays should be based on risk factors and the comfort level of yourself and the family and friends you may plan to spend time with this season.
- Discuss your holiday plans with family and friends in advance to assess the level of risk and determine if it’s safe for you and members of your household to participate in holiday gatherings.
In November and December, people across the United States gather with family and friends to celebrate a variety of cultural and religious holidays — including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. This year, many people are rethinking their holiday traditions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Although it may still be possible to continue some of your cherished holiday celebrations this year, you and your family and friends may need to adjust your usual plans to ensure that everyone can participate safely. Here are health questions to help you figure out the level of risk your holiday traditions may have during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where and how are you celebrating?
Wearing a mask, practicing proper hand hygiene, and maintaining social distancing reduces your chances of COVID-19 infection. When it comes to the risks of COVID-19 transmission, research has shown that indoor settings are riskier than outdoor environments; gathering in large groups is riskier than in small groups, and prolonged close contact is riskier than brief contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
Based on the previous criteria, it’s important to consider where and how you’re celebrating and assess your level of risk. For example, attending a crowded indoor gathering would be riskier than a small outdoor gathering of just a few family members. A lengthy visit with no social distancing would be riskier than a brief visit where family members stay six feet apart and wear masks.
Due to proximity at the table, passed platters of food, and shared serving utensils, a sit-down family meal would be riskier than a gathering where there was no food or where attendees brought their own food and beverages. If alcohol is served, its inhibition-lowering effects could make those who consume it less likely to follow health recommendations.
The level of risk for your holiday event could increase if participants are traveling to or from areas that are experiencing high COVID-19 infection rates. States across the country have different travel advisories in place. Review your state’s travel advisory, usually available on the state’s website, before making holiday event and travel plans.
Here are specific questions you can ask to determine the level of risk of your holiday celebrations:
- Will the event be held indoors or outdoors?
- How many people will be at the event?
- Will participants be willing/able to wear masks?
- Will participants be willing/able to practice social distancing?
- Will participants be willing/able to practice proper hand hygiene?
- Will the visit be brief or prolonged?
- Will the event include shared food or beverages?
- Will alcohol be served at the event?
- Will participants be traveling to or from areas that are experiencing high COVID-19 infection rates?
- Will the event follow public health guidelines for gathering size limits?
What are your personal, family, and community risk factors?
Older adults and people who have certain health conditions — including lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system, obesity, chronic kidney disease, or liver disease — are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill and experiencing COVID-19 complications.
When deciding how you can safely celebrate the holidays, consider whether you or anyone in your household is at high risk for COVID-19 complications and whether you will be able to take appropriate steps to stay safe. Here are questions to consider:
- Will I be able to comply with safety rules?
- Will I be able to quarantine at home if I become ill or if I’m exposed to someone who has COVID-19?
- Are there any high-risk family members that could be affected by a potential exposure?
- What are the COVID-19 infection rates in my community?
- What are the COVID-19 infection rates in the community where the event will take place?
- Will I be exposed to anyone who is traveling from an area with high COVID-19 infection rates?
What steps can be taken to promote safety?
In this pandemic world, all activities outside the home carry some level of risk for COVID-19 infection — and holiday celebrations are no exception. However, your family and friends may be able to make modifications to your typical holiday plans that lower COVID-19 risks. Here are questions to ask:
- Could high-risk relatives participate virtually?
- Could the number of people be limited?
- Could the event be held at a different venue to better accommodate social distancing?
- Could the event be held outdoors?
- Are there ways to limit contact between participants?
- Could food and beverages be prepared individually to limit passing around of shared items?
- Are all participants in agreement with the steps being taken to promote safety?
- Will participants stick to the agreed-upon safety plans?
Helpful information: CDC guidelines for holiday celebrations during the pandemic
The bottom line: Decision-making regarding where and how to celebrate the holidays should be based on the risk factors and comfort level of each participant. The best approach is to discuss your holiday plans with family and friends in advance so you can assess the level of risk, figure out what steps can be taken to promote safety, and determine whether it’s safe for you and members of your household to participate.