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Healthy Holidays: 10 Strategies for Safe Celebrations

By Jenni Roberts, Nurse Practitioner, TeamHealth Regional Advanced Practice Clinician Director, Northeast Group, and member of TeamHealth Clinician Resiliency Work Group

The holidays are built around traditions and gatherings. We must consider how we may celebrate differently this year to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Ten helpful considerations and strategies for safe celebrations follow. These suggestions create only minor inconveniences involving situational awareness, pre-planning of your celebration, educating your guests, and managing the environment where the celebration takes place.

Making changes to our traditional holiday celebration might be challenging for families with differing views of the pandemic. Everyone has their own risk tolerance, and the civil response is to respect those differences. Fear of disappointing our families is another concern, but keeping you and your family safe is the top priority. To ensure safety, you may need to reframe how holiday celebrations occur.

10 Strategies for Safe Celebrations

1. Consider community risk.

Be aware of the community infection rates in the holiday destination as well as in the areas that guests may be coming from. Consider who you are bringing together and if there is local guidance in effect regarding social gatherings. The safest way to celebrate is at home with the people in your household.

2. Avoid exposed contacts.

Please ask your guests not to attend if they have had close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, if they are feeling ill, are waiting on COVID-19 test results, or if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. The last item seems obvious, but people can minimize their illness and often have distorted beliefs about risk. For example, they may falsely believe, “if I have minor symptoms, I am probably not contagious” or “If I wear a mask, no one can catch it from me.”

3. Avoid an open house celebration.

Keep your celebration an “invite-only event” realizing that the larger the gathering, the greater the risk of spreading the virus. This year’s celebration might be smaller, but it will be safer. If you ignore the size of your gathering, you’re ignoring a basic fact about how the virus is spread. Make the determination about who will be invited sooner rather than later, so that people who would normally be part of your celebration can make alternate plans.

4. Consider the duration of the celebration.

The longer the celebration lasts, the more risk of spreading the virus. For example, let your guests know the party starts at 5 p.m. and runs to 7 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. this year. This information helps your guests know what to expect and how to plan.

5. Describe your celebration to guests.

Let your guests know how you plan to celebrate. Many of your guests will appreciate knowing in advance what will be expected of them. It also provides your invited guests the opportunity to decide whether or not they feel comfortable attending. Remember to respect their decision if they decline. Everyone has his or her own risk tolerance and opinions.

6. To mask or not to mask?

Wearing a mask is a simple precaution, which has been shown to reduce the spread of the virus. It is probably the most beneficial practice to protect anyone who lives outside your household.

7. Minimize indoor time, if possible.

If you are lucky enough to be in an area where the climate allows, think about having the celebration outside and minimize time spent indoors. If you are in a region of the country where the weather does not allow for an outside celebration, give serious thought about airflow and ventilation in your home. Ventilation, wearing a mask, and social distancing are three of the most powerful strategies to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

8. Limit crowding.

Think about how to serve food and drinks to minimize lines or crowded dinner tables. If you do use a buffet, only allow a few people at a time at the serving area and have one designated person serve the food at the buffet. How you arrange this process will depend on the size of the crowd and the space available, but the goal is to avoid a situation with people in close proximity.

9. Use technology.

Think about incorporating technology into your celebration to connect with those who cannot attend. By now, most people have used Zoom or another platform, and there may be great benefit in using technology to enhance the holidays. A structured video call will be more enjoyable than an open-ended Zoom get together. For example, if there are religious readings associated with your holiday, use Zoom to share the readings among participants. Another idea would be to ask each attendee to share their thoughts about the holiday. Scheduling a time and length for the video call allows participants to continue to organize and enjoy the celebration at their home. With a little planning, it can be a beautiful thing and will reinforce the meaning of your holiday!

10. Create fun for your children.

Stay positive, especially when communicating to your children about your holiday plans. Children may have a hard time with the changes in their lives due to COVID-19, and they may be looking forward to their typical holiday gatherings. It may be difficult for parents to deliver the news that this year’s holiday season might be different. Keep the conversation positive with words of encouragement such as “we will still have a traditional dinner” or “this year we get to order from your favorite restaurant.” Plan activities on the day of your celebration such as a family kick-ball game, baking a new dessert together, a fun indoor craft or even an interactive Zoom game that they can play with friends or family members. Review additional ideas for Zoom games for kids from Parade and Happy Mom Hacks.

Also consider individuals at high risk

A final thought concerns how we address the needs of those at high risk of contracting COVID-19. This can be a big challenge for our celebration planning since age itself is a risk factor, which means the most important people to our holiday traditions may need special consideration. If a second, smaller celebration is not the best option, plan ways to protect the individuals at higher risk. Basic strategies again include masks, ventilation/airflow, length of exposure, and social distance. Physical contact with our loved ones is so important, but hugging and kissing should be discouraged. Your grandmother may enjoy a hug from her favorite nephew who just traveled from Arizona, but that moment may precipitate illness with potential disaster. While this is a challenging time to organize a holiday celebration, there will be future celebrations less encumbered by the current need for precautions.

Happy and Healthy Holidays

As a clinician or associate of a healthcare company, you must insist upon health-promoting holiday celebrations. Do not put your loved ones at risk. With a long-awaited vaccine on the horizon, we want to emphasize the hope that our sacrifices this year will pay off with more opportunities for in-person gatherings once the vaccine is widely distributed.

Try to approach this holiday season with flexibility and creativity. Do your best to promote safety, but recognize that everyone will manage their contact differently. Encourage all gathering participants to continually weigh the risks and benefits of attending. You might be pleasantly surprised at the appreciation and cooperation you receive. A different type of holiday celebration does not mean it will lack the satisfaction and joy that you have experienced in the past.

For more information, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created helpful considerations for holiday gatherings.

As we enter this unique holiday season, TeamHealth extends wishes for good health and safety along with the usual holiday wishes to you.