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table set for dinner party in backyard with string lights
table set for dinner party in backyard with string lights

How to Have a Low-Risk Gathering

Protect Your Loved Ones From Illness

The holiday season often brings together people from across the country and from multiple generations. It is a time to hug, enjoy family traditions and share food. Unfortunately, it can also be a time to share viruses, including COVID-19. Respiratory viruses are common in fall and winter, and they will continue to spread through the holiday season.

Here are tips for how to have a safer gathering this holiday season.

How to Celebrate Indoors

  • Get vaccinated. The best way to minimize the spread of COVID-19 is to get vaccinated if you are eligible. If you are vaccinated and plan to be around other people who are vaccinated, your risk of spreading illness is low.
  • Get tested. Prior to interacting with family and friends, consider getting tested to lessen your risk of spreading the virus.
  • Wear a mask. Consider wearing a mask indoors if you are with a large group of people where it may be difficult to know their vaccination status, or if you are around someone who is immunocompromised.
  • Increase ventilation. Open the windows and use a fan in one of the windows to blow air out. This will pull in fresh air through the other open windows.
  • Stay home if you are not feeling well. If you have any symptoms of illness, such as a cough, sore throat or fever, send your regrets and sit this gathering out. Even if you don't think you have COVID-19, you could be wrong. People who are vaccinated can get a very mild case of the illness and not realize it. Quarantine yourself and do not expose others. Get tested (or call your physician) if any symptoms arise.

Talk to Loved Ones Who Are Not Vaccinated

Having conversations with family or friends about COVID-19 vaccination status can be difficult, but it is important. Establishing an understanding with those you plan to celebrate the holidays with can make things merrier.

"Many of us have had a very difficult year, and this holiday season seems to be one we can celebrate together, safely, in person," says Northwestern Medicine Family Medicine Physician Kavita Shanker-Patel, MD. "Have open conversations with your family members before gatherings. Remember that everyone has different comfort levels, and those should be respected. Enjoy the time together while still being safe."

If you have concerns about someone who is not vaccinated, reach out to talk. Remember these tips:

  • Listen. Acknowledge their concerns about the vaccine and be empathetic.
  • Give facts. Share successful accounts of how the vaccine is helping people.
  • Address misconceptions. There are many myths about the COVID-19 vaccine that are easily shown to be false. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website has timely information on COVID-19 and vaccines, including extensive data showing how effective and safe the vaccines are.
  • Make a referral. Suggest they talk to their physician to get information from a trusted medical expert.

More Tips for Safer Holiday Gatherings

If you or a loved one is at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19, or if the entire family is not vaccinated, a traditional indoor gathering may not be a safe option for everyone. Consider some alternatives:

  • Gather outside. Sit people from the same household together, with different households seated at separate tables 6 feet apart, if possible.
  • Do a drive-by. Prepare food for loved ones and deliver it in a contactless way. Depending on the weather, you may sit with them outside, 6 feet apart.
  • Gather virtually. Designate one host to set up a virtual meeting and send out the invitations. Each family can prepare food for their household. Consider sharing recipes in advance so you are all enjoying the same meal. Create activities for everyone to do together: play charades, name one thing you are thankful for or share old family photos.
  • Get vaccinated. The CDC suggests that you delay travel if you are not fully vaccinated. However, if you must travel, get a viral test one to three days before your trip. You should then get another test three to five days after travel and self-quarantine for a full seven days.
  • Mask up. Regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask over your mouth and nose on all forms of public transportation.
  • Monitor for symptoms. Even if you are vaccinated, you still have a risk of getting COVID-19. If you develop any symptoms, self-isolate and get tested.
  • Follow CDC recommendations. The CDC continues to update recommendations for travel based on the latest information.

Follow your physician's advice.

If you are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19, talk to your physician about your travel plans. 

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Kavita Shanker-Patel, MD
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