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table set for dinner party in backyard with string lights
table set for dinner party in backyard with string lights
Emotional Health and COVID-19

How to Have a Low-Risk Holiday Celebration

Protect Your At-Risk Relatives

The holiday season is a time to get together with relatives from all over the country and from multiple generations. It’s a time to hug, share food and enjoy family traditions. Unfortunately, many of the activities that you may love to do with your family and friends during the holiday season present a high risk for spreading COVID-19. And, if your social calendar is typically jam-packed during the holiday season, you run the risk of being a COVID-19 super-spreader.

“Anything that involves interaction indoors with people not in your immediate household is a high-risk activity,” says Northwestern Medicine Family Medicine Physician Kavita Shanker-Patel, MD. “This doesn’t mean that your holiday season is canceled; it just means that you may consider reframing how you celebrate this year.”

Here are a few low-, moderate- and high-risk ways to celebrate the holidays.

Low Risk

  • Celebrating with only the people in your household
  • Having a virtual celebration with other loved ones
  • Preparing meals for loved ones who are at-risk and delivering it to them in a contactless way

Moderate Risk

  • Hosting an outdoor gathering with fewer than 10 people who live nearby. Remember to:
    • Remain 6 feet apart from others
    • Wear masks
    • Not invite those who are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19

High Risk

  • Gathering inside
  • Not maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance
  • Not wearing masks
  • Inviting your relatives who are at an increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19
  • Hosting a gather of more than 10 people
  • Traveling

Other Tips for Hosting Safer Holiday Celebrations

“I highly recommend against a traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year,” says Dr. Shanker-Patel. “When you think of the holiday season, you think of family members traveling from all over to sleep in one house in close quarters. This is just not safe. To prevent more people from contracting and dying from COVID-19, we have to modify these holiday celebrations.”

Here are some ways to rethink your holiday plans.

Together, but separate

  • If you’ve decided to host an in-person gathering outside, sit people from the same household together, with different households seated at separate tables 6 feet apart, if possible.
      • Remember that many people are concerned about getting their relatives sick. Part of being a good host is practicing low-risk behaviors that help keep your guests safe and stress-free.
  • Do a drive-by celebration with your at-risk relatives. This is a great way to prepare food for them and deliver it in a contactless way. Depending on the weather, you may sit with them outside, 6 feet apart. Be sure that everyone is wearing a mask. No hugging or kissing!
  • Many people look forward to the holidays all year, and especially anticipate the 2020 holidays at the end of a year that has been marked by feelings of loneliness and isolation. Make the effort to reach out to relatives who can’t make your celebration this year by calling them or connecting virtually if possible.
  • Home for the holidays

    If you have a child who is traveling home from college, consider asking them to get tested and isolate before they interact with other family members. This also includes wearing a mask in the house until they receive their COVID-19 test results. If your child is unable to get tested and isolate, they should not be around at-risk relatives, like grandparents.

    Avoid too many cooks in the kitchen

    Family style won’t fly this year.

    • If you are hosting an in-person holiday meal, it’s riskier to have multiple people bring food items from their individual households than it is for one person to cook everything. Pick a person who you know will abide by hygiene protocols (washing their hands, wearing a mask) and have them cook everything.
    • Another person can be the designated server, dishing up plates and bringing them to everyone, so that only one person touches serving utensils. This person should wash their hands before and after serving, and wear a mask.

    Avoid Black Friday

    While malls will be open, standing in a crowd to shop indoors is a high-risk activity.

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    Kavita Shanker-Patel, MD
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