Considerations for holiday celebrations and holiday travel

Information You Can Use

Information You Can Use

From holidays and community events to travel and family gatherings, get the latest updates and health and safety considerations for COVID-19.

Considerations for Holiday Celebrations and Holiday Travel

Around the country, people are preparing for winter holiday celebrations. Though there is no such thing as a perfectly safe way during the pandemic for families to gather over the holidays or otherwise, there are gradients to this risk: outdoors is better than indoors, masks worn at all times are better than bare faces, distance is better than hugs, and the fewer people, the better. Consider a smaller, more intimate holiday season to keep everyone safe and healthy this year by celebrating in person with only those in your household and thinking creatively in connecting with those outside your household. Avoid travel to the extent possible.

These guidelines from MCW and the CDC, should be considered in addition to state and local health and safety laws, rules and regulations. When planning to host or attend a holiday celebration, assess current COVID-19 levels to determine the best course of action.

Hosting or attending holiday gatherings and other alternatives

Typically, families and friends gather in large groups for fall and winter holiday celebrations, including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s. Hosting and attending these gatherings may put people at increased risk of COVID-19. Though it may seem awkward wearing a mask around your loved ones and staying 6 feet apart, as well as some of the other considerations noted, it is important to focus on reducing the risk for those most important to us. Considerations should be made to limit in-person celebrations to only those in your household. However, if you do plan to have individuals outside your household attend an in-person gathering, there are many considerations you can take to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

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Consideration prior to your holiday gathering

Prior to hosting or attending a holiday gathering, there may be some additional steps you can take to help increase the health of safety of all.

  • Get your flu shot to reduce the likelihood of developing a flu-related illness.
  • Have a serious family conversation about commitment and dedication to maintaining a safe environment.
  • Discuss a shared commitment to taking precautionary efforts possible the 14 days before the gathering, including masking, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds.
  • Consider high risk family members and risk tolerance for exposing them.
  • Consider encouraging all hosts and invited guests to avoid contact with people outside their household for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Consider asking all hosts and invited guests to get tested before gathering and only convene if everyone tests negative (this is not risk-free, as an individual can contract the virus in one day and be contagious without having symptoms).
  • Take precautions if flying – take a direct flight, order face shields or goggles to protect your eyes and wear an approved face covering. Cloth face coverings combined with eye equipment offer an acceptable level of safety but check with the airline for their specific guidelines.

Review CDC guidelines for recommendations on Holiday Celebrations and small gatherings

Considerations for during your holiday gatherings
  • Follow the COVID-19 guidelines set by your municipality, county and state.
  • Limit the number of attendees for any gathering; if you host or attend an event, make sure there are 10 or fewer people.
  • Limit the duration of your gathering; gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • Outdoor gatherings are preferred to indoor gatherings. If outdoor events are not possible, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed spaces. Open windows and doors to increase ventilation where weather makes it possible and safe to do so.
  • Maintain six feet of physical distance from others and use facial coverings while indoors when there are others present who are from outside of your direct household.
  • Avoid serving a potluck-style meal; encourage guests to bring food for members of their own household.
  • Avoid physical contact like hugs and handshakes and close contact activities.
  • Don’t pass babies/small children from person to person.
  • Disinfect commonly touched surfaces, doorknobs, faucets, light switches.
  • Have hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol at convenient locations.
  • Ask guests who are not feeling well to stay home.
  • Try to keep gatherings to people from your local area, whenever possible.
Reinventing your holiday celebration and creative alternatives

Think creatively about alternatives to gathering in person, seeing it as an opportunity to start new traditions and ways to connect. Below are just a few alternatives, but the creativity is endless.

  • Host a family cookoff over video.
  • Synchronize a Netflix movie between households.
  • Host a secret gift exchange and secretly ship gifts so no one needs to leave their house to celebrate.
  • Host an online award ceremony for the best-of for the year.
  • Host a holiday light contest with drive-by voting.
  • Find a game to play over Zoom or FaceTime.
  • Attend an outdoor holiday event that abides by recommended precautionary measures such as outdoor festivals or light shows.

Holiday travel considerations

The days surrounding major holidays are some of the highest travel days of the year and should be avoided to the extent possible. Many people travel via plane, train, bus, and car to reach their friends and families and celebrate holidays together. Traveling increases the chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. MCW infectious disease experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following guidelines to help you travel more safely:

  • Wear a mask or face covering in public settings, including airport and train stations, on buses, at all events and gatherings, and anywhere you will be around other people.
  • Keep your distance! Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not in your household.
  • Avoid peak travel days and times to minimize crowds (Sanchez)
  • Bring your own disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, keeping in mind TSA volume restrictions. (Sanchez)
  • If possible, try to maintain two rows of distance from people outside of your household. (Sanchez)
  • Avoid the airplane bathroom, if possible.
  • Some studies have shown that eye protection (like face shields, or goggles) in addition to face coverings can decrease transmission, but face shields are not a substitute face coverings. (CDC)
  • If possible, refrain from eating, drinking, and taking off your mask while on an airplane or shared transportation. (Sanchez)
  • Minimize the number of people handling your luggage. Carrying your bag with you instead of checking it on a flight, bus, or train ride reduces the number of people handling your bag. (Sanchez)
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Keep your distance from people in the airports, avoid restaurants, bring your own food.
  • Check the airlines website for their requirements

Review CDC guidelines on reducing travel risk

College students returning home for the holidays

Some college students may have already returned home if their campus had to close due to an outbreak that would necessitate quarantining and possibly testing. However, for those college students who have been away from home and in college classes or on a college campus all fall, getting tested before leaving campus is both a responsible and safe consideration for the whole family. Students should also quarantine for 14 days upon arriving at home – regardless of a test result – especially if you know the institution your child attended had high transmission rates prior to the holiday break.

General COVID-19 precautions

Educate yourself on how COVID-19 spreads – by close contact, through respiratory droplets (when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes, sings, or talks), and by asymptomatic carriers. In less common cases, COVID-19 can be spread by airborne transmission or on contaminated surfaces.

To protect yourself from COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick or those who live outside your home.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Monitor your health daily.
  • Avoid crowds.

Sources: Joyce Sanchez, MCW (where noted); CDC