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COVID-19 Holidays Part One: Six Safety Guidelines to Consider as You Plan Your Holiday Season

If you attend or host a holiday celebration, consider these guidelines for gathering.
5 min read
December 12, 2021
Dr. Jill Lundstrom
Board-Certified Pediatrician
Dr. Jill earned her MD at the University of Massachusetts. She believes that all children deserve access to quality healthcare to learn and thrive.

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For many families, the holiday season has started. Before the pandemic, your family and friends may have joined one another to share special meals, make memories, and celebrate the traditions of your holiday season together. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this year’s holiday season may look a bit different. Staying at home doesn’t mean you won’t make unforgettable memories with your loved ones. It simply means it may look different than other years. As COVID-19 cases surge, all families should be extra careful and think about whether they can gather safely.

The Safest Place to Be This Holiday Season Is at Home

As COVID-19 cases reach record numbers, traveling and gathering, especially with older and more vulnerable family members, is not recommended. Even small gatherings have proven to be times when family members and friends catch COVID-19 unexpectedly. Many families assume that gathering with friends and relatives is safe, so they don’t wear masks or social distance safely. Staying home and celebrating the holidays with the people in your immediate household is the best way to protect your family and your community from COVID-19.

Guidelines for Gathering

If you plan to attend or host a holiday celebration, you should consider the following guidelines for gathering with people outside of your immediate household.

Communicate Expectations with Visitors: Many families look forward to the holidays as a chance to see people they have missed throughout the year. This year, inviting anyone outside of your immediate household to visit can increase the risk of getting COVID-19. This includes a friend or relative visiting as an annual tradition, or a family member who lives outside of your home is returning to visit, such as a deployed service member or college student.

If your family does decide to have visitors, be sure to look at the number of COVID-19 cases in their area, and discuss their pandemic habits before the visit. Encourage them to carefully follow guidelines to social distance, wear a mask, and wash hands during the weeks leading up to their visit. If your visitor is unsure if they have come in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last two weeks, many areas will provide free COVID-19 testing. However, even a negative test before traveling cannot guarantee that a guest will be COVID-19 free when they arrive.

Travel COVID-19 Safely: If your family needs to travel to a special event, remind them to keep their masks on throughout the entire trip on buses, trains, airplanes, taxis, or rideshares like Uber or Lyft. If your family is driving to an event, make sure they wear their masks and wash their hands if they get out of the car at gas stations and rest stops. Remember that anyone can be exposed to the virus at any point during travel.

Review the Number of Local Cases: A good way to determine the risk level of a gathering is to check the number of COVID-19 cases in your area, and in the area they are traveling from. If the number of cases is growing in either area, you may want to reconsider the event. There are many helpful resources online that can show this information. Check the number of cases in each county here.

Limit the Number of People at a Gathering: The more people at any gathering, the more risk there is for catching COVID-19. It’s important to think about whether the groups within each household will have space to follow social distancing guidelines at an event.

Although it may be hard, try to avoid hugs and other types of close contact with people outside of your household. Remember to wear your mask throughout the gathering, except when eating and drinking. You can bring paper bags for your family to store their masks while eating to keep the mask clean.

Encourage your family to frequently wash their hands and dry them with paper towels or other single-use material. If you are hosting the event, be sure to wipe down common surfaces with disinfectant as often as possible.

Consider the Event Setting: Although there is a lower risk of getting COVID-19 during an outdoor gathering, it may be difficult to host an event outdoors during the cold winter months. Indoor gatherings can increase risk.

Try to spread guests from each household out as much as possible. You can limit contact with serving utensils by having the masked host or other volunteer prepare a plate for each guest rather than hosting family-style.

Put Safety First: If a member of your family isn’t feeling well, or has been in contact with someone with COVID-19, stay home. A person of any age and health can get COVID-19, even if they aren’t showing symptoms. If a member of your family starts to show COVID-19 symptoms within two weeks of gathering, immediately call your healthcare provider and get tested for COVID-19. Inform other guests that you are awaiting results.

Remember, the safest way to celebrate the holiday season is to celebrate with members of your household. Watch for our next blog to get some fun ideas about how you can celebrate the holidays safely without leaving home.

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