Holiday safety during COVID-19.

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Updated Nov. 23, 2020

The holiday season is a time for travel and get-togethers with family, friends, and others. But your usual activities may need to be adjusted this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has caused millions of illnesses and nearly a quarter million deaths in the United States in 2020. Efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 have meant a change in everyday habits like working, going to school, and even running errands.

Read on for how you can still celebrate the holidays amid COVID-19.

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High-Risk Holiday Activities

The coronavirus most commonly spreads through respiratory droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice, droplets are released and can be inhaled by anyone nearby, potentially infecting them.

SARS-CoV-2 spreads more easily in large gatherings among people who are not members of your household, especially if people are not wearing facemasks. The virus spreads more easily indoors but can spread outdoors as well.

People celebrating the holiday season traditionally engage in activities that would be classified as higher-risk for COVID-19 transmission. Activities to avoid include:

  • Shopping in crowded malls or stores, particularly on Black Friday
  • Joining in “Turkey Trots” or other races with large numbers of participants
  • Playing “Turkey Bowl” football games, which can include close contact with people who are not members of your household
  • Attending holiday parades
  • Going to in-person holiday parties or other large gatherings of people from outside your household, particularly without masking and social distancing
  • Visiting Santa in person at malls or community events

You should avoid these activities this holiday season. When you do go out in public, it’s important to take steps to avoid getting infected.

“Any time you visit public establishments, every family member over the age of 2 should wear a mask over their mouth and nose, stay at least six feet apart from people outside of the family group, and wash their hands often,” says Megan Freeman, MD, fellow, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Celebrating the Holidays Safely Amid COVID-19

It’s important to take preventive steps at all times to limit the spread of COVID-19. That includes wearing facemasks, practicing social distancing and good hand hygiene, and cleaning and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces.

Update: On Nov. 18, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Health updated its universal mask requirements

Under the new requirements, people 2 years old and above must wear face coverings at all times indoors when with people who are not members of their own household. They must also wear face coverings when outdoors and unable to consistently maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing.

To comply with the current Pennsylvania requirements, people over the age of 2 years old must wear a facemask both in public and at any gathering of people from different households. They must wear the facemask at all times indoors and at all times outdoors when unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distancing. Exceptions can be found under Section 3B of the order.

To limit spread of the coronavirus, avoid large gatherings of people who are not members of your household.

Some lower-risk holiday celebrations can include:

  • Holiday dinners with people from your own household
  • Virtual get-togethers with friends and family
  • Shopping online instead of in stores, or planning your outings in advance to avoid crowds
  • Virtual visits with Santa
  • Watching sporting events, holiday movies, and parades from home
  • Decorating your home
  • Viewing your community’s holiday lights with members of your household
  • Listening to holiday music with members of your household

If you do host people who are not members of your household for a holiday celebration, keep the gathering as small as possible. Consider gathering outdoors — and if you stay indoors, keep the windows open. Wear facemasks and encourage social distancing and hand hygiene. If you’re providing food, avoid serving a buffet-style meal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also outlines moderate-risk activities. Those include:

  • Hosting a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community
  • Visiting pumpkin patches and orchards, as long as facemasks, hand hygiene, and social distancing are observed
  • Attending small outdoor sporting events if safety precautions are observed

“Everyone wants the holiday season to be a joyous time, and celebrating with family and friends is important,” says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director, Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology at UPMC.

“This year, because of the pandemic, we have to find creative ways to enjoy time with loved ones without spreading COVID-19. Otherwise, the joy of the holidays will be marred by a more extensive spread of illness.”

Holiday Travel During COVID-19

Many people travel during the holidays, but it might not be the best plan this year.

According to the CDC, travel increases the risk of COVID-19 spread. Many methods of travel expose you to people who are not members of your household. Staying home is the best way to prevent COVID-19 spread.

If you are traveling, take time to check the community spread levels of COVID-19 where you are traveling from and at your destination. Be sure to check local or state regulations for your destination, and consider a 14-day quarantine before and after your trip.

Do not travel if you are sick, you’ve been sick within the last 14 days, or if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days. Also, do not travel with people who are sick.

While traveling, here are preventive methods to help limit your risk:

  • Facemasks: The CDC recommends people over age 2 wear facemasks in public. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have mask requirements in public places.
  • Social distancing: Try to maintain six feet of distance from people who are not members of your household. This includes ticket lines, seating areas, and more.
  • Hand hygiene: Wash your hands frequently, especially after contact in airplane and bus terminals, gas stations, and more. Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds before rinsing. If soap and water are unavailable, substitute a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. Consider carrying hand sanitizer with you while traveling.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19: Holiday Celebrations. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Link

Jorge L. Ortiz, USA Today, The Holidays Are Coming. Does the COVID-19 Pandemic Mean You Should Skip Even Small Family Gatherings? What Experts Say. Link

TODAY, How to Safely Celebrate Thanksgiving Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic. Link

About UPMC

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