Pandemic Preparedness: Reducing COVID-19 risk during holiday celebrations

Now is the time many people are trying to decide what they are going to do during the holidays. This is a challenging time and you must balance the risk-benefit of your activities. It is critically important to ask yourself and your family and friends some of the following questions before making your plans. 

  1. Are there vulnerable people that would be at the holiday gathering you are considering? 
  2. Do you or other members of your household have potential exposures due to activities that put you in close contact with people outside your household on a regular basis? This could be by choice or it could be due to your job. 
  3. Would you be going for such a short time that you would not be able to get tested before joining with your gathering or is testing inaccessible?
  4. Would you need to travel and not have time to quarantine after your travel and before the holiday gathering?
  5. Is the level of transmission where you would travel to much higher than where you are residing?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, consider staying put this year and celebrating with your immediate household or your quaranteam or pod. Transmission is increasing all over the country and the likelihood that you could have someone in a large gathering that is infected is becoming considerable. 

If you still decide to have a gathering during the holidays it may need to look different this year.  Here are some ways to make  holiday celebrations safer and reduce your COVID-19 risk:

  1. Have open and frank conversations about risk and level of acceptable risk among everyone who will attend. 
  • Each family will have different risk taking behavior. Some of you may go to the grocery store in person, or feel comfortable going to small parties with friends or out to eat. Others may only order online and never get together with people outside their immediate household. It is critical that everyone be entirely honest about their level of risk and comfort. It’s ok to say you just don’t feel comfortable getting together in-person this year. You can still do something meaningful like having a virtual celebration, sending small home-made gifts or notes, or having a gift exchange through the mail. 
  • Don’t feel offended if someone says they just don’t want to get together. It is important to respect everyone’s comfort level. 
  1. Quarantine before and after you travel and encourage those who might be traveling to see you to do the same. 
  • To reduce the chance that you are infected when you see others, minimize your interactions with people outside your household as much as possible prior to the gathering for at least 10 days and up to 14 days. 
  1. If you are traveling, especially by public transport where you may be exposed to alot of people, consider finding a place to stay after you arrive where you and / or your household are away from the other household members. 
  2. Consider getting tested prior to the gathering. But keep in mind, a negative test is not a guarantee that you are virus free. Continue to use face coverings, wash hands, and distance as much as possible during your visit. 
  3. Opt for hosting celebrations or get togethers outside instead of indoors. This may be hard for many parts of the state and the country, but plenty of us live in areas that have good weather during the holiday season or have heat lamps on a patio to make it possible to gather outdoors. 
  • COVID-19 spreads more easily in enclosed spaces compared to outdoors.
  • Check out our previous update for more information on what components are necessary for a COVID-19 infection.
  1. If gatherings are hosted indoors, ensure that there is good airflow
  • Opening windows and doors, turning on fans, and keeping the air conditioning on are good ideas to ensure proper ventilation.
  • Hospital grade air purifiers have also been shown to have some impact but they need a high air exchange rate – i.e. they need to be powerful and might be expensive. 
  1. Limit the number of family and friends at a gathering 
  • Keeping gatherings small (e.g., fewer than 10) is a good way to lessen the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • Also think about the number of households represented. Two households coming together with 10 people means less pooling of risk of multiple households with different exposure levels. 
  1. Space out seating to follow physical distancing guidelines
  • Spacing out seats by at least 6 feet can be a helpful way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.
  • You can save room by clustering people by household since they are already in close contact with each other. 
  1. Encourage guests to wear cloth face coverings during the gathering whenever possible 
  • Wearing cloth face coverings has been proven to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is particularly important to have distance when people are eating as masks will have to be removed.
  1. Tell family and friends to stay home if they are not feeling well, or have had any recent potential COVID-19 exposures
  • Ask guests to take their temperature before arriving and to stay home if they are not feeling well. Guests should also avoid coming to the gathering if they believe they had a recent potential exposure to COVID-19. 
  1. Avoid sharing drinks, utensils, and other items amongst guests
  • If eating together, it is a good idea to encourage guests to serve themselves food and then wash their hands before they begin eating. It is also important to avoid sharing objects or items whenever possible (e.g., don’t pass phones around to share pictures, etc.).
  • You may want to consider having everyone bring their own dish. This reduces the likelihood of contamination. 
  1. Everyone at the gathering should wash their hands regularly 
  • After having contact with objects that other people may have touched, it is a good idea to wash your hands.
  1. Keep the celebrations short
  • Remember that risk of infection is directly related to the duration of exposure. Keeping visits shorter can reduce the potential for spread. 
  1. If possible, opt to stay in a hotel or airbnb rather than in the house with family and friends. 
  • Crowded conditions increase the chances for the virus to spread and sharing the same living space if you haven’t quarantined beforehand can increase the risk of transmission between the host and the guests. 

Remember the pandemic will be finite. We had great news about the COVID-19 vaccine this past week. Early studies indicate it could be 90% effective! This means we may only have to do this for one holiday season. It is extremely important we all fight the COVID fatigue and do our part to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safer so we can maximize our chances of having many holidays to come with the ones we love. 

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