It feels like another punch in the gut, but we’ve heard more and more how COVID-19 seems to spread quickly at small family gatherings. As such, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released guidance on how Americans can stay safer while traveling, hosting, or attending parties with family and friends over the holiday season. 

The CDC stresses that these guidelines are “meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which all gatherings must comply.” Also, it’s essential that we assess the levels of COVID-19 infections in communities to “determine whether to postpone, cancel, or limit the number of people at a celebration or whether to attend certain activities.”

CDC Guidelines for Safe Holiday Celebrations

While the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year, experts are recommending that we all avoid travel. According to the CDC, “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.” 

The CDC suggests:

  • Limiting contact with those outside of your home for 14 days prior to attending celebrations
  • Shortening the duration of the festivities to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19
  • Not attending in-person gatherings with anyone who: 
    • Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not met 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

Determined to head home and spend time with loved ones? The CDC has broken up the guidance into “lower risk,” “moderate risk,” and “high risk” activities, so you can make informed decisions. 

Lower Risk Holiday Activities

Here are some ideas for celebrating the holidays while keeping the risk of infection low for the people in your household, and those around you. 

  • Enjoy a virtual dinner with family and friends
  • Gather for a small dinner with the people in your household
  • Skip in-person Black Friday shopping and buy online
  • Watch parades, sports events, and movies at home
  • Preparing food for loved ones? Avoid person-to-person contact when delivering it. 
  • Taking a drive with the people in your household to see the holiday light displays in your area

This may sound boring or even heartless, but that’s the reality of life during a pandemic. The more strictly we adhere to safety measures, the quicker we can put this nightmare behind us. 

Moderate Risk Holiday Activities

You’ll be increasing the chances of exposure by participating in any of the following (or similar) activities, but if you take proper precautions, you’ll keep the risk moderate. 

  • Small outdoor dinners with friends and family who live in your area
  • Visiting pumpkin patches, apple orchards, or other outdoor open spaces
  • Small outdoor sporting events practicing safety measures 

Again, it’s very important to wear a mask when appropriate, maintain social distancing, wash hands regularly, and use hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water. 

High Risk Holiday Activities

We know that some of these things may be part of your annual traditions, but skipping for one year might save lives. Here are some holidays that the CDC considers higher risk. 

  • Attending indoor family gatherings with people outside of your household
  • Shopping in crowded stores
  • Going to or participating in a crowded parade or race
  • Using drugs or alcohol, as this may impact your judgment and ability to practice proper safety measures

We know that it’s tempting to continue “business as usual” during the holidays and we all wish that things were normal. Before you engage in a higher risk activity, ask yourself if it would truly be worth it if someone got sick. 

Final Recommendations for Holiday Gatherings

Here are some additional recommendations for those attending small holiday gatherings this year. You’ll have to do what’s best for you, but these are the CDC guidelines:

  • Bring your own food and drinks and encourage others to do the same
  • Avoid potluck-style dinners
  • Wear a mask while preparing food for others
  • Keep your mask clean by storying it in a paper bag between uses
  • Have one masked person serve all the food instead of sharing serving utensils
  • Consider single-use condiments, utensils, and plates
  • Wash your hands or sanitize before the meal
  • Use hot soapy water or a dishwasher to clean dishes immediately following the meal
  • Have a plan for what you will do if someone gets sick during the visit
  • Improve ventilation inside your home by opening windows or having your central air and heating running continuously
  • Avoid singing and shouting indoors
  • Do not let pets interact with people from outside your household
  • Monitor guests and hosts for symptoms of COVID-19

These guidelines may seem pretty restrictive or even extreme, but these are unprecedented times. If we all work together to slow the spread of this disease and protect each other, we could have a much better holiday season next year. Let’s do this!