COVID Safety During the Upcoming Holidays

September 15, 2020 – “This year we are not having a family reunion because of COVID.”

Like millions of Americans, Judy Ross must have shared this message as many of us find out what to do for the upcoming holidays in the COVID-19 era.

Ross, a member of the Adas Israel congregation in Washington, DC, says his family usually meets on the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, starting with the synagogue.

After that, “we all gathered at my sister-in-law’s house. We have a traditional meal, light the candles before dinner begins, say a prayer, then wish everyone a Happy New Year, ”she said.

But the pandemic has changed decades of tradition. Ross won’t go to synagogue. Services run by the clergy will be broadcast live to his home instead. And this year, the darling family dinner is replaced.

“What we’ll probably do is a Zoom call with all the family and loved ones.”

It’s been tough for families, says Chief Rabbi Susan Grossman of the Beth Shalom congregation in Columbia, MD, where the summer holidays will all be virtual.

She tells her devotees that Scripture teaches that they are to live according to traditions and not die by them.

“There are ways to come together, but the most important thing is not to endanger health,” she says.

No easy answers in 2020

Vacation travel was as easy as hopping on a plane or packing the family car. The only thing to worry about were the long lines at the airport or the backups on the highway. But with America’s COVID-19 cases approaching 7 million people and 200,000 deaths, it’s not that simple.

Americans want to know if it is safe to travel on upcoming holidays, like Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving. And if they decide to have family reunions, what precautions should they take?

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, says a lot goes into that decision, including where you are and who you will be with.

“It really depends on the level of infection in the community you are in,” he said in an interview. “Look at the United States. It is a large country, but its level of infection is very heterogeneous. There are certain areas of the country at any given time where the infection rate and the test positivity are really very low. “

In these contexts, says Fauci, “if you do things with a good to modest degree of care, you may be able to gather indoors for Thanksgiving or for a religious holiday. However, the level of infection is of concern in some areas. And under these circumstances, you may need to take extra precautions. “

Know the situation

He also says you need to consider who will be there and what their risks are.

“If you have someone who is a combination of the elderly and immunocompromised with significant underlying conditions, I would be very careful not to have that person in a crowded gathering, even with masks on.” , says Fauci.

The CDC has divided the country into colored areas based on the level of infection. Pale yellow means the infection is quite low, orange means a modest degree of infection, and red means a lot of infection. See the map for yourself here. Make sure and click on “Cases in the last 7 days” to get the current image.

According to Fauci, you will need to be extra careful in the yellow and red areas.

Avoid large crowds if possible and wear a mask, indoors and out, if you cannot physically get away from others. “If you have to be indoors and you have people who maybe congregate near each other where you can’t maintain that physical distance, then it becomes even more important to wear a mask,” says -he. “So you might be able to have family functions, religious functions, but people should at a minimum wear a mask and, if possible, limit the number of people at a given gathering. “

Traveling carries risks

Vin Gupta, MD, a pulmonary critical care physician and assistant professor of health measurement sciences at the University of Washington Medical Center, thinks traveling for the holidays is risky. He says respiratory viruses like COVID-19 like dry, cold climates and are more easily transmitted there.

“It would be taking a calculated risk,” he says. “So if, for example, I couldn’t make sure that I wasn’t harming my family, and if I knew I couldn’t take the strictest precautions, then I wouldn’t go.” Unfortunately, this is the consequence we all have to live with in the context of a global pandemic. “

Gupta offers these tips if you plan to attend a rally:

  • Make sure you have no COVID-like symptoms for at least 2 weeks before travel.
  • Get tested before you travel and, if possible, quarantine yourself in a hotel for at least 48 hours before seeing loved ones.
  • Drive if possible.
  • If you fly, travel during off-peak hours, wear a properly fitted mask (N95 if possible), social distancing, and make sure the airline keeps the middle seat open. Take wet wipes to wipe down the back of your seat and tray, and make sure you have hand sanitizer.
  • At the family reunion, reduce close contact and maskless conversations, especially around your elderly loved ones.

Other tips include frequent hand washing, washing your own dishes to reduce the risk of cross-contamination or saliva exposure, doing your own laundry during your stay, and wiping down common areas such as bathrooms. bathrooms.

“The way you operate in public, operate in private when you visit family members that you don’t normally see day in and day out, who might be vulnerable.”

Fauci says the less people touch the food the better. And if you choose to order, “order separate portions,” he says. “It might be safer than cooking yourself. Avoid the platters and serving dishes that are commonly shared. Try to keep the portions as separate as possible. “

“You want to minimize cross-contamination, anyone eating directly from shared jars, sharing glasses of liquid, because we know COIVD-19 can be spread through secretions of saliva,” Gupta adds

Turkey will be served

For years, Joan Carter-Smith has hosted Thanksgiving at her home in Clarksville, MD. She says this year she will only celebrate the holidays with her immediate family. She and her husband, as well as her daughter and son-in-law, have had COVID this summer.

“The question is where,” she said. “Because we’re a tight-knit family and we just love being together. If it’s not here at my house, it will be at my daughter’s because she has a lot more room.

The 69-year-old mother of four is expecting around 16 people.

“I only get together with my family. We don’t go to anyone else. It’s just us, so I know none of us are sick. We have all been cleared by the health department and our results are negative for the second COVID test. I know that if either of us is sick, we’re not going to risk being together just for fun.

Gupta calls for caution.

“If people have to get together, what you don’t want to do is create an event that is widely broadcast among your family and friends. And if there are gatherings inside of individuals that you don’t shelter yourself with, that you’re not already somehow snuggled up with, you should limit them to five or less.

“Because,” he said, “you don’t want a short-sighted, short-term decision to impact or cut the life of someone you love deeply and want to spend even more vacation with. . “

Judy Ross is hoping for a vaccine soon and looks forward to the day she can meet over a meal with family and friends.

“I wouldn’t go to a Thanksgiving gathering or dinner on High Holy Days, and I think if you took a poll most people wouldn’t either,” she says. “It’s too risky.”


Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.

Vin Gupta, MD, pulmonary critical care physician, assistant professor of health metrics sciences, University of Washington Medical Center.

Judith Ross, Washington, DC

Joan Elizabeth Carter-Smith, Clarksville, MD.

Senior Rabbi Susan Grossman, Congregation Beth Shalom, Columbia, MD.


Mayo Clinic.


Congregation Adas Israel.

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