November 10, 2020

Is It Possible to Gather Safely This Holiday Season?

The holidays are often when we get to spend long-awaited time with family and friends we don’t often see. But this year, COVID-19 has many of us wondering if it’s safe to get together. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued tips for hosting gatherings in the midst of the pandemic as well as things to consider before making the decision to gather together.

Who Should Not Attend In-Person Holiday Celebrations

The CDC advises that you should not host or participate in any in-person festivities if you or anyone in your household:

  • Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not meet the criteria for when it is safe to be around others.
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Is waiting for COVID-19 viral test results.
  • May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
  • Is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. (This consideration also should be extended to friends and family with whom you will be gathering.)

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About the Gathering

Several factors can contribute to the risk of getting infected or infecting others with COVID-19 at a holiday celebration. In combination, these factors will create varying amounts of risk, so each should be considered.

  • Community levels of COVID-19. Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, as well as where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Information on the number of cases in an area can be found on the area’s health department website.
  • The location of the gathering. With the exception of warmer climate locales, end-of-year holiday gatherings usually call for indoor rather than outdoor locations. Outdoor gatherings pose less risk. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose more risk than those with good ventilation, such as with open windows or doors.
  • The duration of the gathering. Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • The number of people at the gathering. Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability to reduce or limit contact between attendees, the risk of spread between attendees, and state, local, territorial or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations.
  • The locations attendees are traveling from. Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area. Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location or where attendees are coming from increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees.
  • The behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering. Gatherings with attendees who are not adhering to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask-wearing, hand washing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventive behaviors.
  • The behaviors of attendees during the gathering. Gatherings with more preventive measures in place, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing, pose less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented.

If You Are Hosting or Attending a Holiday Gathering

For those planning to host or attend a holiday gathering, the CDC offers the following tips:

  • Encourage everyone attending to get a flu vaccine.
  • If it’s not possible to host an outdoor event, increase ventilation indoors by opening windows and doors if the weather allows.
  • Provide updated information to your guests about any COVID-19 safety guidelines in your area.
  • Help the host by bringing supplies that help you and others stay healthy, such as extra masks, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and tissues.
  • Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing. People from the same household can be in groups together and don’t need to be 6 feet apart — just 6 feet away from other families.
  • Don’t shake hands, do elbow bumps or give hugs. Instead, wave and verbally greet them.
  • Make sure there is adequate soap or hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol available in the restrooms. Consider also providing cleaning supplies that allow guests to wipe down surfaces before they leave.
  • Remind guests to wash their hands before serving or eating food.
  • Use single-use hand towels or paper towels for drying hands so guests do not share a towel.
  • Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible.
  • If serving any food, consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.

Check out the CDC site for more tips on hosting and attending gatherings and holiday travel.

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