Spreading Holiday Cheer Without Spreading COVID-19

By: Taylor Andres and Brandon Szuminsky

‘Tis the season where, under normal circumstances, families gather to celebrate the holidays. With COVID-19 cases still on the rise, the last gift anyone wants to receive is a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. This year, it is important to consider the risks of gathering with family and friends for the holidays.

“Any gathering with people other than members of your own household can mean a risk of COVID-19 exposure, especially since a person without symptoms may be contagious,” said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at UPMC.

Research suggests that those who don’t realize they have the virus cause more than 50% of COVID-19 transmissions because they do not have symptoms or have yet to develop symptoms. Even if you have been tested and receive a negative result, you could still be unknowingly carrying the virus and experience symptoms later.

“This year, we must find ways to celebrate the holidays with loved ones without jeopardizing our health or the health of those around us,” said Snyder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding crowds and indoors spaces without fresh air from outside as much as possible. Consider ordering gifts online rather than visiting the mall in-person, or try baking holiday treats. Additionally, find outdoor holiday activities to enjoy, like looking at Christmas lights.

If you are not able to avoid gatherings with those from outside your household, it becomes all the more important to mask and physically distance to the extent possible. Masking is important for everyone — even those who feel fine —and masks should always be worn properly, covering the mouth and nose.

If you cannot avoid a holiday gathering, here are some important ways to reduce risk:

• Ask those on your guest list to be extra vigilant with masking, physical distancing and handwashing in the 14 days prior to your gathering.

• Request that guests wear a mask to the gathering in advance and reinforce the importance of masking while family members are not eating or drinking.

• Move dinner outside if the weather permits. A porch or patio with space heaters, or a garage with a door open, would increase air flow and reduce the risk of transmission. When not eating, it is important to still wear a mask outside if family members can’t remain physically distanced.

• Keep visits shorter than usual. The less time people are gathered, the less time there is to spread the virus.

• Reduce or replace high-touch items. Everyday items like serving spoons at the table or hand towels in the bathroom can become a source of spread. Use individual or disposable options where appropriate.

It can still be the most wonderful time of the year if we all take simple steps to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. For more information on holiday safety tips, visit the CDC.