The COVID-19 pandemic has had a stressful and isolating effect on many. The holiday season tends to be a time of gathering and connecting with family with and friends. However, this holiday season we must take into consideration modifying our plans in order to minimize the spread of the virus and ensure that we keep our family, friends and community healthy and safe.
Currently, the pandemic seems to be worsening and, unfortunately, indoor gatherings have been a contributor to the rise in cases. During the holiday season we must ensure that we follow local and state mandated regulations and avoid activities that will increase the risk for the virus’s spread. With this in mind, we can consider various alternatives that will allow us to celebrate and not miss out on the opportunity to connect with our loved ones. Following are some tips to keep in mind during this year’s celebrations:
Consider virtual gatherings.
Even though it may seem impersonal, the decision to not have in-person gatherings this holiday season is arguably the most loving decision we can make. Family members, especially ones in higher risk categories, will remain safe through virtual gatherings, while at the same time receiving the benefit of having contact with their loved ones.
Celebrate with members of your household.
Even small gatherings can set the stage for an outbreak. People who are already living together have a combined level of exposure, therefore, a gathering of 10 residents from one household poses a lower risk than bringing together 10 individuals from different households.
Account for the level of risk.
It may be difficult to put a definite number on how many guests are too many to have. Some cities have restrictions on the number of people that may gather, so first off, we should keep this in mind. When getting together, we should create a guest list that takes into consideration what risk level each specific guest may pose, according to their specific level of exposure and daily contact with other individuals who may pose a risk. We should also take into account where the guests are coming from. According to the CDC, the safest bet is to celebrate with individuals within your community versus different regions, in order to avoid transmission through travel between communities.
Limit your travel on public transportation.
Airplanes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation are places where travelers may be exposed to individuals, air, and surfaces that may be contaminated. Even when traveling in our car or RV, gas stations and rest stops may put us in close contact with other individuals and surfaces that are frequently touched by others.
If we decide to take the risk and host a gathering here are some guidelines the CDC is asking us to keep in mind:
- Check the COVID-19 infection rate.
Make sure you are aware of the infection rate in your area. Consider when it is safe to have a gathering based on the current status of the pandemic in your area. Also take into consideration where your guests are traveling from when inviting people from other communities in order to reduce everyone’s exposure to the virus. Also, take into account their level of risk, especially if you are in an area that has a higher infection rate.
2. Gather outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
Whenever possible, consider hosting your event outdoors. When setting up outdoors, make sure that guests are seated with the physical distancing guidelines of 6 feet apart in mind. If you use an outdoor tent, you should keep in mind that four-wall tents have less circulation than open side tents. If an enclosed tent is required due to weather conditions, you may consider either leaving one of the sides open or rolling 12” of the bottom of the sidewalls in order to provide air circulation. Having indoor gatherings means spaces with less ventilation, which may pose a higher risk than having outdoor gatherings where there tends to be more space and fresh air. If you have no choice but to gather inside you should increase air circulation as much as possible by leaving windows and doors slightly open or by setting up central air or heating on a continuous circulation mode.
3. Consider the duration and size of the gathering.
You should also take into consideration the number of people and duration of the gatherings. The more people we gather with, the higher our chance of coming into contact with someone who has been exposed to the virus, and the longer amount of time we are exposed to the virus the more chance we have to become infected. The larger the gathering, the higher the risk, so determine the number of attendees based on the ability of people from different households to maintain social distance and attempt to avoid direct contact, such as hugs and handshakes from people from other households.
4. Encourage and employ safe behaviors.
When hosting a gathering, make sure to have safety measures in place. We should encourage our guests to wear masks, to maintain social distance and to avoid touching each other. Also, we should ensure a germ-free space by offering hand sanitizers and gently reminding our guests to wash their hands. In order to ensure everyone’s safety, we should consistently clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and use touchless garbage cans and disposable utensils, plates, and napkins whenever possible.
No single specific measure has been proven to be effective enough to fully prevent spreading the COVID-19 virus, therefore, the more of these preventative steps we take, the safer our family and friends will be.