When the COVID-19 pandemic first began earlier this year, many of us didn’t think it would affect the winter holiday season. Yet, here we are, with COVID-19 cases surging

While there's been promising news on vaccine development, experts caution that we must remain vigilant into 2021. What does this mean for the holidays? 

When considering how you might celebrate with family and friends this season, it's important to be especially careful and to take steps to minimize risks. Here are some tips to help you plan ahead and reduce your family's risk.

Take Steps to Reduce Risk

We know it’s hard to make changes to long standing traditions, but it can be the difference between life and death for those you love. The best way to start reducing risk is to make a plan for how to keep your holidays safe.

  • Gather virtually - It's safest to celebrate in-person only with members of your own household. If you can video chat via Zoom or another service, you won't have to worry about spreading germs between households. This is critical even if you are feeling okay.

  • Getting tested is not a green light to socialize. Many people have plans to get tested before seeing friends and family this holiday season. While testing is a critical part of the pandemic response, it’s not a free pass to have a holiday party. Testing is not 100% reliable especially in people that are asymptomatic. If you do get tested as a precaution, opt for a PCR test instead of a rapid test, unless you’re experiencing symptoms. Remember that if you do plan to see other people outside of your household after testing it’s important to isolate as much as you can to prevent exposure.

  • If you must celebrate in person, do it outdoors Transmission is significantly less likely outside than inside. If cold weather is a factor, consider using outdoor heaters or fire pits.

  • If you must celebrate indoors, keep to areas that are well ventilated - This means opening windows, running fans, or even using an air purifier.

  • Wear masks. If you do decide to see people that don’t live in your household then plan to wear masks. Normalize this before you get together, setting the tone in advance helps keep everyone on the same page. Try something like, “Hey friend, while we are together for the holidays we should all wear masks the whole time. This will make my family and I more comfortable and help keep everyone safe.” 

  • Keep your distance. Keeping at least 6 feet between you and others helps to reduce transmission.

  • Wash your hands frequently and keep sanitizer nearby. Hands carry a lot of germs. Be sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap before touching your face and eating, and make a habit of washing them every time you enter the house. If you need a reference try singing “Happy Birthday” while you wash them.

  • Keep it small - Fewer people means fewer potential exposures to the virus. While there's no magic number of how many guests are safest, reducing the number of households is the best bet.

  • Keep it quick. The risk of transmission goes up the longer you spend with others. A good rule of thumb is to limit close contact to less than 15 minutes.

  • Skip the sit-down meal - Sitting at a table with no masks on, passing around food, talking and laughing, and sharing utensils significantly ups the risk of viral transmission. So consider giving the cooks a break and enjoy time together without the large meal. If you include food, go for single-serve options in disposable, single-use containers, preferably eaten outside. 

  • Ask guests to quarantine - If everyone at your gathering strictly limits contact in the two weeks before the event, you reduce the risk that someone shows up infectious. 

  • Consider individual risks for your loved ones - Older adults and people with health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease should probably sit this out due to being at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

  • Discourage travel from hot spots - Some parts of the country have much higher COVID rates than others. If your friends or family are in these areas, take a rain check on the in-person get-together and make up for it next year.

There's no way to guarantee zero risks, and none of these decisions are easy. Many people have decided to stay home instead of traveling to visit their families this holiday season. If you choose to gather in person, applying multiple approaches to managing risk can make a difference.

Coping With Uncertainty This Holiday Season

If you're feeling isolated or lonely this holiday season, or if you're having a difficult time coping with the weight of it all, you certainly are not alone. Confidant is here to help. 

You can connect with our therapists from the convenience and comfort of your own home. Get support managing pandemic-related stress, mental health and complex emotions.

Remember, talking and building connections helps, even if we can't do it in person this year.