It’s that time of year again where families and friends come together to celebrate special traditions and meaningful moments. However, holiday gatherings in 2020 won’t be large, Norman Rockwell affairs. COVID-19 cases are still on the rise across the country and the virus can easily spread from one person to another during traditional holiday activities where we gather for shared meals or rituals. The best gift you can give your loved ones this year is to keep them healthy and safe. To help, the CDC has offered up the following considerations to protect you and your family, friends, and communities from COVID-19 this holiday season.
Higher levels of COVID-19 cases in the area you live and where you’re going (as well as where the other attendees are coming from) increase the risk of infection at your gathering. All attendees should consider the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in their community and the community where they plan to celebrate when deciding whether to host or attend a celebration. Unfortunately, you’re not really going to get an accurate picture until fairly close to when you want to travel because transmission rates are changing rapidly.
Traveling increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19 so the best way to protect yourself and others is by staying home and celebrating with loved ones virtually. However, if you decide to travel, wear a mask at all times when you’re in close quarters with others unless they live with you and have been taking appropriate precautions. Additionally, wash your hands frequently and practice social distancing when around others not from your household. If you’re driving, keep the windows open whenever possible to let fresh air in and avoid using the recirculate air button in your car. Remember to wash your hands after touching common surfaces like a gas pump and door handles. As for hotels, they’ve created a touchless experience, including check-in and check-out, and housekeeping won’t even come to your room during your stay. Request a room on a lower floor to avoid using an elevator with others so you can take the stairs instead.
Do not travel if you are sick with fever, cough, or other symptoms of COVID-19, if you have recently tested positive for COVID-19, are waiting for results of a COVID-19 test, or have had close contact in the past 14 days with a person who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19. To be on the safe side, require everyone to get tested before the group comes together. Once everyone has gotten negative test results, agree to prioritize one another’s safety, and avoid any unnecessary exposures by quarantining for two weeks before your gathering. Additionally, while COVID-19 isn’t the flu, ask everybody to get a flu vaccine. They’re an essential part of protecting your health and your family’s health and you don’t want to risk bringing something else into the mix.
Make sure to keep your gatherings small with indoor gatherings having 10 or fewer people and outdoor gatherings having 25 or fewer people. To minimize risk, celebrate outside if possible, wear masks, and stay six feet away from other guests. If gathering indoors, open windows and/or doors to allow airflow and help with the quality of indoor ventilation. Have an extra supply of masks, hand sanitizers, tissues, paper towels and single-use items such as soaps, toiletries and wipes on hand. Remember to wash and disinfect guest areas before and after holiday gatherings and try to keep your festivities short. Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
COVID-19 doesn’t spread through food and there is currently no evidence to suggest that handling food is associated with directly spreading the virus. It is possible, though, that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food, food packaging or utensils that have the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. To reduce the risk of transmission, encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks for themselves and members of their household only. If that’s not possible, wear a mask when preparing or serving food to others who don’t live in your household. Avoid self-serve food or drink options and have one person serve all the food and drinks so that multiple people aren’t handling the serving utensils. Limit people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible.
Consider using single-use options or identify one person to serve shareable items like salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils or condiments. If you choose to use any items that are reusable like seating covers, tablecloths, and linen napkins, wash and disinfect them after the event. Additionally, make sure everyone washes their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, utensils or plates to avoid transmission of the virus from these items.
While we’re longing to check in on aging parents and to see old friends this year, staying close to home and keeping your holiday gatherings small is the best way to stay safe. If you have any doubts, this is the year to skip out on a big get-together. The potential consequences of you bringing flu or COVID-19 to your family gathering or acquiring it and bringing it back home afterward aren’t worth it. If you wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing and avoid large groups and indoor gatherings, you can help drive infection rates down—making next year’s gathering even more meaningful.
Stay safe and happy holidays!