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Are holiday gatherings OK during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP

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Are holiday gatherings OK during the COVID-19 pandemic?

​For many families, the holidays are about getting together with relatives and friends. But as the COVID-19 pandemic  continues, gatherings with people outside your household continue to be risky this holiday season. Public health experts say that small household gatherings are some of the main ways COVID-19 cases spread so much again this fall.

With some extra planning and lower risk activities, though, your family can create lasting memories while lowering the risk of being exposed to or spreading COVID-19. Here are some tips I'm sharing with families in my practice this year:

  • Celebrate with members of your own household. Limit any in-person celebration to people you live with. Cooking with your children and decorating ​your home are great ways to enjoy each other's company while protecting your family and others from COVID-19.

  • Find creative ways to share the experience remotely. Prepare a favorite recipe with extended family over video chat. Share what you are grateful for or light candles together virtually at the start of the holiday meal. Set up a group video call to sing songs, play instruments, share stories, open gifts together or count down to the New Year together.

  • Consider a drop-off treat exchange. Another way to share the holiday spirit is to prepare cookies or other special holiday treats for family and neighbors. Instead of exchanging them in person, delight them with a doorstep drop-off.

  • Shop online and help elderly or higher-risk loved ones. Do any grocery or gift shopping online with delivery and curbside pickup options, if possible. Consider holiday food deliveries to elderly relatives. If you need to shop in person, go when stores are not as busy.

Tips for a virtual holiday gathering with grandparents

With so many families turning to video conferencing platforms for their celebrations this year, the American Speech-Language​-Hearing Association recommends finding different ways to communicate for older adults who may have difficulty hearing. Try using closed captioning or a larger screen, and make sure that they are closer to the computer and speakers to better hear and see facial expressions. Limit side conversations to give everyone a chance to speak and be heard.

If you do have an in-person get-together...

Make sure everyone understands that gatherings with people outside your household can be risky. Here are some ways to help make them safer:

  • Keep the gathering small and short. Keep your guest list as small as possible and reduce the amount of time you would usually visit.

  • Wear cloth face coverings and keep your distance. People who live together can sit together, but arrange for those from different households to stay at least 6 feet apart—especially while eating. Remind everyone to wear cloth face coverings when they're not eating.

  • Open windows and stay outside when possible. Open windows for better ventilation. If weather permits, gather outdoors. Stay a safe distance apart from others and wear cloth face coverings with multiple layers or medical masks, even outside.

  • Safer serving. Avoid buffet or family-style dinners and choose one person do the serving or get individual meals if ordering out. Remind children to wash hands often, and keep hand sanitizer within reach.

  • Take safety steps beforehand. For two weeks before the gathering, remind guests to follow steps that lower the risk of COVID transmission. This includes wearing cloth face coverings, physical distancing, and limiting outings and social gatherings as much as possible. Consider offering your guests a “self-screening" checklist and ask them to join you virtually if they realize they are at higher risk of exposing the group to COVID-19.

  • Safer travels. Guests traveling for the get-together should drive with family members in a private vehicle, if possible, and wear masks at gas stations and rest stops. Anyone who has to fly should be extra careful around groups clustered near security lines and concourses, wear masks in airports and on planes, and hang back until lines have thinned.

Remember

Do not host or participate in any in-person festivities if you or anyone in your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is still at risk of spreading it to others; has had any symptoms of COVID-19 within 48 hours of the gathering; is waiting for viral test results; could have been exposed to someone in the last 14 days; or is at high risk.

Stay safe this holiday season and your family will be even more grateful for your traditions in the years to come.

More information

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP

​Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, is a practicing pediatrician, author, and mom in Atlanta. Dr. Shu is co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn and Food Fights. A frequent guest on national and local television, radio, and web-based programs, she is serves as medical editor for HealthyChildren.org, is the Living Well health expert for CNN.com, contributes medical information to BabyCenter and WebMD.com, and serves on the Parents magazine advisory board. ​

Last Updated
11/27/2020
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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