How to celebrate the winter holidays during the pandemic

The December holiday season is typically a joyous time of year spent with family and friends, but this year, with COVID-19 infections on the rise, public health officials are urging people to celebrate differently to keep loved ones and communities safe. There has been a steep rise in cases and deaths since Thanksgiving, and health officials fear the surge could be even worse in the new year if people do not take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Even if the people you want to gather with have received the vaccine, there may still be a risk of infection.  This is because, according to the CDC, it typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination; a person could be infected and get sick just before or just after getting vaccinated. Officials say the best way to limit your risk of exposure to COVID-19 is to stay home and celebrate with people in your own household — the people you live with daily, like family and roommates.  This advice is prompting many difficult family discussions about risk. Here are some lower-risk and higher-risk celebrations, as well as some tips to help celebrate the holidays safely.

Lower-risk celebrations and activities

At home or virtual celebrations pose the lowest risk of infection from COVID-19.

  • Celebrate at home with people in your own household.
  • Host a Zoom dinner with extended family. Share your favorite holiday memories from past years, play games or sing carols together in the safety of your own homes.
  • Make food for family and friends and deliver it in a contactless way.
  • Order holiday gifts online. If there is not enough time to ship the gifts, many retailers offer in-store and contactless pickup options. If you have to pick up in the store, you and the store employee should wear masks.
  • Put a virtual twist on your favorite holiday activities, like virtual visits with Santa and virtual caroling.
  • Take a drive to see holiday light displays with members of your household.

Higher-risk celebrations and activities

Gathering with people outside your household involves risk.  We are being urged to avoid these situations. Those who are gathering outside their own household should take proper precautions.

  • Small gatherings with people outside your household — Limiting your contact with others 10 days before gatherings will help limit the spread of COVID-19:
    • Wear a mask at all times, except when you are eating or drinking.
    • Stay at least six feet away from people outside of your household. This means avoiding direct contact like hugs and handshakes.
    • Place tables in separate rooms so guests can eat with members of their household.
    • Open windows and doors to increase ventilation if weather conditions allow, or set your heating/cooling system to constantly circulate
    • Wash your hands frequently

 

  • Holiday travel – Airports, bus and train stations, gas stations and rest areas are all places where travelers can be exposed to COVID-19. Health officials urge people to postpone or cancel travel plans, but, if you do travel, wear a mask at all times, maintain social distancing whenever possible, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer.

 

  • Shopping – People are making a mad rush to finish their holiday shopping, but shopping in-person increases your risk of exposure to COVID-19. If you choose to shop in-person, try to shop at off-peak times when there are fewer shoppers, wear a mask, and maintain six feet of distance from others. You can lower your risk even further by taking advantage of contactless pickup options now offered by many retailers.

 

The safest thing you can do is stay home. If you do visit family and friends, you can lower — but not eliminate — the risk by getting tested for COVID-19 72 hours before you travel or attend a gathering.  Even with a negative test, you must still wear a mask and maintain social distancing. A test only indicates whether or not you have COVID-19 at the time the sample is taken. It is still possible to get sick after the test, so taking precautions will protect you and the people you love.

State leaders in Massachusetts hope people take to heart this advice: celebrate safely only with your household, so we can celebrate together in 2021.

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