Here's How to Celebrate the Holidays Safely This Year, According to the CDC

Staying home is the safest option. But as millions of Americans plan to travel for the 2020 holidays, the CDC offers advice on how to stay as safe as possible.

High Angle View Of Dining Table Decorated At Home During Christmas
Photo: Getty Images

Any other year, the holidays would be a time to get together with relatives who live near and far. But of course the pandemic has changed the way we celebrate, especially as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the United States.

So, does that mean we should cancel our Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or New Year's celebrations altogether? Not exactly—but some adjustments are highly recommended. Like it did for Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on how to safely be festive for the 2020 holidays.

What is Safest?

Only celebrating with people who you live with you and have been practicing COVID-19 safety measures is the best way to celebrate any holiday this year. In-person gatherings with people from different households, including college students who are heading back home, is considered a threat.

As for extended family and friends? Bring on the virtual party. And consider going virtual for other traditions too, such as saying hello to Santa.

If You're Planning an In-Person Gathering

Hosting an in-person gathering with people outside your household is a risk no matter what. But as a survey found more than a quarter of Americans planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with people who didn't live with them, so it's likely the upcoming holidays won't be any different.

Here are things the CDC says host and attendees should consider:

  • COVID-19 infection rates: First, check the local COVID-19 infection rates to see how high they are or if they are increasing. You can do that by heading to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker County View or by visiting state, local, territorial, or tribal health department websites. Make sure to also check areas where any attendees are coming from. The higher the numbers, the more reason to avoid hosting or attending a party.
  • Guest list: Keep the guest list as small as possible to allow for guests to stay at least 6 feet apart. On that note, avoid handshakes, hugs, and any direct contact when together. Also, it's best your attendees are ones who have consistently followed safety measures like social distancing, mask wearing, and hand-washing.
  • Location: It's cold in certain parts of the country but indoor gatherings do pose a higher risk of spread. Opt for an outdoor gathering instead and keep masks on when not eating or drinking. Proper ventilation is key—if you have to be indoors, make sure it's as ventilated as possible by opening doors and windows and even putting central air and heating on constant circulation.
  • Practice safety measures: Again, keep 6 feet apart with anyone who doesn't live with you at all times. Practice hand-washing for at least 20 seconds, wearing masks, and limit contact with commonly touched surfaces. There's also nothing wrong with asking guests to avoid contact with anyone outside their home for 14 days before the holiday gathering.

What About Travel?

The holidays are a time when people travel—whether by air or car—to be with loved ones. But this year, it's a good idea to reconsider as the CDC says travel may increase your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. Still, 84.5 million Americans might still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, according to a report from AAA. Although that's 34 million fewer than last year, that's still millions of Americans who should practice safety measures.

If you do plan to travel, consider the number of COVID-19 cases in your area or the area you are visiting (the higher the numbers, the more reason not to travel); whether you or someone you live with is at an increased risk of getting very sick from COVID-19; the status of the hospitals in the area where you are visiting; travel restrictions; how you are traveling and with who.

And always stay as safe as possible by wearing a mask in any public place, avoiding close contact with others, washing hands for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, and not touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth.

Who Should Avoid In-Person Gatherings Completely?

Keep in mind, there are instances where in-person holiday gatherings should be completely off limits. That includes for anyone diagnosed or showing symptoms of COVID-19. Those who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days, as well as those waiting for COVID-19 results. You should also not attend these gathering if you are at risk for severe illness or live with someone at increased risk of severe illness.

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