The coveted holiday season—a bonding time for families, friends, and communities—is difficult to gauge this year. While traditions of gift exchanges, elaborate dinners, and extended family parties are the norm, now is the time to prioritize you and your loved ones’ health.
With the novel coronavirus exceeding 230,000 deaths in the U.S., families have to adjust holiday celebrations accordingly. Gone (for now) are the days of hopping on a plane or packing up the car for a road trip, but try not to worry—there are still ways families can celebrate together.
Making the right decision
This holiday season, every family is struggling with one decision: to gather with family and risk infection, or to stay at home and risk loneliness. With pros and cons on both sides of the bill, there is no easy choice—but health and safety need to remain top priority.
Those following COVID-19 data and headlines are likely familiar with Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID Director. In an interview with STAT, Dr. Fauci cautioned, “I think people are going to have to evaluate the level of risk that they want to take, particularly in families in which you have grandpa and grandma and elderly individuals who are going to be vulnerable.” Likewise, Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy cautioned a step further: “We have far too many examples where adult children with grandchildren came home for events over the course of the recent months when seven or eight days later, it’s clear there’s been SARS-CoV-2 transmission.”
While it’s important to recognize these risks and exercise caution, location can alter the safety of in-person gatherings. Pay close attention to local cases in your community to determine if an in-person gathering is safe for your family.
Hosting or attending in-person gatherings
Should your family choose to celebrate in-person, there are a few cautionary items to keep in mind, as research suggests in-person gatherings pose varying levels of risk. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose higher risk than those with good ventilation (open windows and doors), and gatherings with people outside the same household who do not wear masks pose an even higher risk.
The CDC recommends hosting outdoor activities and limiting the number of attendees, sticking to those who live in the same household. If attendees live outside the same household, it is best to ensure all guests quarantine for 14 days before the gathering. Consider using disposable plates, flatware, napkins, and tablecloths, and provide paper towels in place of a common hand towel where necessary. Skip the hugs goodbye, provide updated information to your guests about COVID-19 safety guidelines, and encourage all attendees to bring supplies for everyone to remain healthy (i.e., extra masks and hand sanitizer).
If you are attending a gathering, focus on what you can control and monitor what you cannot. Wear a mask at all times, bring extra supplies, and minimize your time spent at the gathering. After the celebration, stay home as much as possible, avoid being around high-risk people, and consider getting tested for COVID-19.
Across the U.S., there are people like Judy Ross—a member of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.—whose family typically gathers for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year, her family is opting for a Zoom call, urging there are “possible ways to get together, but the most important thing is not to endanger health.”
In a socially distant world where loneliness runs rampant, celebrating the holidays remotely is not the ideal scenario—but it is the safest. With video conferencing through FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, families can sit at their own dinner tables while enjoying everyone’s company through the screen.
Should your family choose a remote celebration via video, try watching the same movie at the same time, playing virtual games together, or hosting an online gift exchange. These temporary plans can turn into lifelong traditions, especially for family members who live outside your local area.
Staying healthy after the holidays
“I can only speak for myself in saying that I am so tired and feeling very deprived of human connection in many ways,” says Crystal Watson, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is certainly not alone, as families across the country will feel an emptiness this season. But try to remember, the temporary changes you make this year will impact your family’s health in the long run—which does not stop when the holiday season ends.
As COVID cases increase around the U.S., now is a great time to add an extra layer of safety. Consider purchasing an at-home medical alert system with a wearable emergency button, or a portable device with an unlimited range of coverage. Opting for a medical device and implementing an emergency plan will ensure you and your loved ones remain safe during and after this holiday season.