Gather Safely When Celebrating the Holidays

Katelyn Swizer, MD, PGY-2, Resident, Baylor College of Medicine, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

The COVID-19 pandemic influences every part of our daily lives, and over the past year we have seen changes in everything from graduation and prom to job interviews and family vacation.  Because of this continued pandemic, families are facing difficult decisions about the approaching holiday season. Many of us are separated across households around the country and as cases continue to rise the safety and health of family and friends is important to consider.

The CDC has recommended against in-person gatherings with multiple households, especially if you work or live with individuals at higher risk of hospitalization or complications from COVID-19. If you do choose to have any in-person gatherings this year, here are a few ideas and important pieces of information to consider as you prepare.

Before Gathering

Family and friends should consider the number of COVID–19 cases in their community and any area they may visit. Information on the number of cases in an area can often be found on your local health department website. 

Public transportation including airports, bus and train stations, and highly populated rest stops can increase the risk of exposure to the virus in the air and on surfaces.  When possible, individual travel by car can decrease this risk.

If higher risk travel is unavoidable, we recommend consistent mask use, maintaining six feet of distance between non-household members, and carrying sanitation supplies to disinfect commonly used surfaces during travel.

Long, indoor gatherings (especially small spaces with no outside air) are higher risk than outdoor gatherings. Being within six feet of someone with COVID–19 for a total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of catching the virus. 

The size of your gatherings should be based on the ability of family and friends to stay six feet apart, wear masks, wash hands, and follow your local health and safety guidelines and regulations.

It is important to realize that during the gathering, alcohol and drug use may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice these COVID-19 safety measures. 

It is not recommended that you host or attend a gathering with anyone who has had COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

If you are an older adult or person with medical conditions putting you at an increased risk of severe illness, or you work with someone at an increased risk, you should avoid in-person gatherings with people who do not live in your household.

To keep your family safe, consider celebrating the holidays with only the people in your household. If people from multiple households are gathering, guests should wear masks and stay six feet apart.

During the Gathering

Increase air movement by opening windows and doors when it is safe and possible based on the weather, or place central air and heating on continuous circulation.

If you plan to use an outdoor tent, ensure guests are seated with social distancing in mind. 

Any gathering that includes people in different households should encourage every guest to wear a mask that covers both the nose and mouth unless eating or drinking. You should also encourage people to stay six feet apart unless they are from the same household. Space your furniture and seating positions so guests know where to sit to be safe.

Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting, as this can increase the spread of the disease.  Keep music low so people do not have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.

Make it easy for guests to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can also use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.  Stock your bathroom with single use towels to prevent the spread of disease.

Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between uses, if possible.  Use touchless garbage cans if you have them.  Use gloves and/or wash your hands after removing garbage bags and handling or exposing trash.

Ask guests to avoid contact with other people outside of their household for 14 days prior to gathering.  Treat pets as you would other family members–do not let pets interact with people outside of the household.

Have one person wearing a mask serve all the food, so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.  Use single use options for salad dressing, food containers, plates, utensils, and condiments. Have a space for guests to wash hands after handling or eating food. Avoid crowded buffet and drink stations.

Select one person wearing a mask to serve food to all guests. This will avoid having multiple people handling serving utensils and platters. All guests should wash their hands thoroughly before and after eating. Provide paper towels for drying hands instead of sharing a cloth towel.

Wash dishes in the dishwasher or with hot soapy water immediately following the gathering.

Overnight Visitors

Visitors should launder their clothing and masks and stow luggage away from common areas upon arrival.

Wear masks while inside the house. Masks may be removed for eating, drinking, and sleeping, but individuals from different households should stay at least six feet away from each other at all times.

Spend time together outdoors. Take a walk or sit outdoors at least six feet apart for interpersonal interactions.

Hosts and guests should have a plan for what to do if someone becomes sick.

Learn More

For more information about gathering safely during the holidays, visit COVID-19: Holiday Celebrations | CDC