Can You Safely Host Holiday Events During COVID-19?

November 10, 2020 – After months of separation from friends and family due to COVID-19, many people are hoping to reconnect during holidays such as Christmas and Hanukkah. But health experts continue to encourage people to adopt safe behaviors and to avoid situations that could expose them or their loved ones to the virus.

“COVID-19 is not the gift we want to give over the holidays,” says Kelly Cawcutt, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

According to the CDC, high-risk activities around the holidays include:

  • Participate in large indoor gatherings with people outside your household
  • Go to crowded parades or races
  • Shopping in crowded stores, especially around Thanksgiving

Many healthcare professionals will warn that the only way to completely reduce the risk of infections is to stay separate and find virtual substitutes for family vacation traditions. Activities that involve masks and non-contact social distancing reduce the risk but may not stop it completely.

If you are determined to come together, here are some strategies that can help.


Coronavirus testing can help manage potential risks. “If you are able to do some testing around the event, it will add an extra layer of safety and comfort,” says Mark Rupp, MD, head of the infectious disease division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. .

Get tested as close to the event as possible. Once you’ve done that, quarantine yourself until the event occurs to avoid exposure (more on travel below). And remember, if you are early in the infection, you can test negative. Some universities, such as the University of Arizona, encourage students to get tested before returning home, while New York’s public university system will not allow students to leave campus unless they have a negative test.

With the increase in coronavirus cases in the United States and expected to continue through December, it may be more difficult to get tested while on vacation. “If there are more and more positive cases, we can see supply chain issues with the number of tests available,” Cawcutt says.

To avoid any possible shortages, see if you can schedule a test in advance, as many pharmacies and other sites offer scheduling online.


Airlines and airports have adopted safer practices in 2020, but vacations have traditionally been the busiest times of the year for travel. If an airplane is not full, travelers can significantly reduce their risk by wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, wiping down surfaces and taking advantage of the circulating air. But there may be more potential risks at crowded airports or security lines.

Driving by car offers the safest way to travel while reducing potential exposures. Take precautions such as wearing a mask at gas stations and rest areas. Don’t stop for your meals at crowded restaurants.

Visit loved ones

Holding an in-person visit with friends or family members outside your home increases your risk of getting infected, especially when travel and extended stays are involved. Families should be especially careful when younger adults, such as college students, who are more likely to have been exposed to the virus, interact with their parents or grandparents, who are more likely to be at risk.

“I think the reality is that unless everyone adopts the same safe behaviors, there is no guarantee that a rally will be safe,” Cawcutt says.

The CDC says anyone who wants to attend a holiday gathering with people outside their household should limit their exposure to people outside that household for 14 days before the gathering.

Cawcutt also recommends self-quarantining before such gatherings, but adds, “If you wore a mask for a quick trip to a store for essentials, or had to work but remained masked and away all the time, that would be. OKAY.”

Having out-of-town guests spend the night under the same roof, even with masks, can increase the risk. Wear masks and social distancing while spending time together, and have people stay in separate rooms, if possible. “The question comes down to, if you are staying with a loved one, is it possible to have some distance or places where you can go, close the door and take off the mask?” Cawcutt said.

She adds that spending nights in a hotel or on Airbnb to reduce exposure may not be helpful. “By going to a hotel you can be exposed to the same level of risk,” she says.

Meals and parties

Outdoor dining and parties provide a safer option than indoor activities. But even with heaters or fireplaces, many parts of the country can be too cold to be practical. If you have a meal indoors, wear a mask when you’re not eating, practice social distancing, and try to have fewer guests for a shorter time than usual.

“If someone at the event is symptomatic or has had clear contact for an exposure, they shouldn’t be there,” Rupp says. “If only one person is to be tested, it should probably be the cook.”

Instead of a family-style buffet or catering service, offer individual meals or have someone in a mask prepare the plates. “The plates and their contents are less of a concern than the aerial spread,” Rupp says.

CDC Recommended Practices for Dinners

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing food.
  • Wear a mask when preparing food for people outside your household.
  • Limit the number of people in food preparation areas such as kitchens or around grills.
  • Rather than passing plates or standing in line for self-serve buffets, have a masked person serve all the food to prevent multiple people from handling the serving utensils.
  • Whenever possible, use non-contact trash cans during cleanup.

Religious services and events

Religious gatherings and celebrations tend to be the busiest during the holidays. When you’re inside places of worship, the CDC recommends wearing masks and social distancing, which may require limiting the size of gatherings and posting signs that encourage people to stay away. at least 6 feet away. Celebrants should avoid sharing frequently touched items such as hymns.

Cawcutt encourages people to make sure others adopt safe behaviors as well. “It’s not just what you do to be safe, it’s what other people do,” she says. “Inside you have to remember how many people are allowed to congregate in one place at any given time. You might see people wearing masks inappropriately. Wearing a mask over your mouth but not over your nose can still spread infections, especially when singing Christmas carols or holiday songs. “

Outdoor vacation events can allow you to be a little more flexible. “I think we’ll see more ability for people to have adequate distance outside, like repeated Christmas tree lights,” Cawcutt says. “But you can still be on display outside, so wear a mask in a crowd.”

Gift exchange

One tradition that could remain intact in 2020 is the exchange of gifts, as the virus is less likely to spread via surfaces. “With good hand hygiene, the virus is very easily killed,” Cawcutt says. “Gifts can be given in advance, either in person or by mail. I feel very comfortable giving gifts during the holidays. “

Nonetheless, people should avoid in-person exhibitions when giving gifts. You might want to drop them off at a safe distance and host the Zoom Opening Night.

After Hollidays

The CDC suggests that if your vacation involved high-risk activities, or if you think you’ve been exposed, take these precautions: “Stay home as much as possible. Avoid being around people at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Consider getting tested for COVID-19. “

Cawcutt encourages people to remember that winter is also a common time to catch colds and flu. “Due to the use of the mask and hand hygiene, we might see a decrease in colds and flu this season,” she says. “But co-infections do exist. If you get two infections at the same time, you may be sick for longer, the severity may be worse, or the recovery may be slower. And these could happen in sequence. You could recover from one and get infected with the other. “

Overall, people should be prepared for their vacations to be unusual in 2020. “What I tell people about this is that we all feel tired and want things to be normal, but normal is not certain right now, ”Cawcutt says.

WebMD Health News


Mark Rupp, MD, chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Kelly Cawcutt, MD, associate medical director, infection control and epidemiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center.

CDC: “Considerations for the Holidays”, “Considerations for Faith Communities”.

Really simple: How to organize Thanksgiving during the coronavirus

UC Davis Health: “Dos and Don’ts on Road Trips by an Infectious Disease Expert.”

The College Post: “University to test students before Thanksgiving.”

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