2020 has seen event after event get crossed off our calendars, each time with the hope and promise of “getting together for the next one”. Now that we are entering the holiday season that we usually enjoy celebrating with family and friends, we have to face the problem of how to do this without exposing ourselves and others to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
While many of us have been anticipating end-of-year holiday celebrations with close friends and family who we have missed throughout the year, sadly as these long-awaited months approach, the virus spread is increasing in many areas of the country, and health experts have pointed to family gatherings as one of the primary causes of this community spread.
At a time when seeing family and close friends feels more important than ever, it’s hard to accept that we need to pull back. But, based on the science, exercising prudence for a bit longer has never been more important.
So, what can we do to celebrate the holidays safely this year? Here are a few easy guidelines to follow:
- Stick to Your Household or Your Designated “Bubble”
According to the CDC, it’s best to limit your holiday gatherings to only those in your household or “bubble.” Welcoming guests from other households increases risk for all in attendance and stands to increase community spread, as well.
Should you decide to invite friends or family members from outside the household or bubble, consider the following to further increase safety for all:
- Keep the guest list as small as possible
- Ask guests to “quarantine” for 14 days prior to arriving, and to get a rapid COVID-19 test prior to arriving
- Arrange seating and mingling spaces such that guests can be six feet apart
- Use single-use condiments, as well as disposable plates, flatware, napkins and tablecloths
- Designate one person to serve food, so guests don’t all touch the same serving ware
- Offer holiday-themed masks, so guests are more encouraged to wear them when not eating
- Keep sanitizing aerosol spray and hand-sanitizing wipes in easy-to-grab places, such as right at the front door and in the bathrooms.
So how many people is too many people? The CDC notes that, “The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart.”
- Zoom In!
If you have high-risk individuals in your household or extended family, it’s best to skip the in-person gathering this year, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip seeing each other. Virtual meeting services like Zoom and Facebook Video Messenger have been quality-of-life savers for many families.
Many video meeting services offer a free level of service, and can “host” up to 30 people, so take advantage.
- If You’re Traveling, Try to Drive
If you do decide to travel to visit a loved one, consider driving. Airports, train stations, busses and bus stations are all places that come with increased risk.
- Pay Mind to Airflow, Air Quality and Humidity
Even if you gather with your smaller “bubble,” there are precautions you can take to reduce risk for all parties.
The more people in a room, the greater the risk. This is because the virus bearing respiratory droplets can more efficiently concentrate and spread in an environment with reduced airflow. So, even if you gather with your small “bubble,” increase airflow by keeping windows open and running a HEPA air purifier. HEPA filters can remove more than 99.5 percent of particles that measure 0.3+ microns, much larger than even a viral particle, which typically measures about 0.1 micron.
There is also evidence that increased humidity can limit the virus’s ability to travel farther distances through the air, so consider running a humidifier as well. Researchers found that for a 1 percent decrease in relative humidity, COVID-19 cases might increase by 7-8 percent.
And if you live in an area where the weather permits, hold your holiday gathering outdoors to significantly reduce the chances of virus spread.
It is vitally important to plan carefully to help keep you, your loved ones and community members safe. When in public or with people outside your household, wear masks, wash hands, and be sure to follow your state and local health and safety guidance.
Happy and safe holidays!