It has been an extraordinarily long haul since the first lockdowns in March. We’ve all had to adjust to the “new normal” as it has affected how we work, learn, play, and go about our daily rounds. Most of us have gotten pretty good at adapting; but the hardest test is yet to come.
With the holidays right around the corner, our patience and willpower are going to be severely tried. This is the season of friends and family, of gathering together in celebration and thanks. The thought of having to forgo long-held traditions is almost too much to bear.
Despite the heartache that comes with staying apart, many families have committed to doing just that. Instead of traveling to be together, they are planning holiday dinners that will take place over Zoom – virtual gatherings are, of course, the safest choice during a pandemic.
Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledges that the remote route won’t work for everyone. To help folks who are planning in-person holiday celebrations, they have put together a long list of tips and recommendations for making such gatherings as safe as possible.
You can read the full CDC holiday guidelines here, but we thought it might be helpful to provide a quick summary that highlights some of the most important tips and advice.
Risk Considerations and Your Guest List
There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re planning an in-person gathering during the time of COVID-19. In addition to looking at local levels of infection, you should also consider the levels of COVID-19 cases in the communities your traveling guests call home. Out-of-town visitors may face additional exposure to risk while traveling, and they could pose additional risk to your other guests.
Will you host your gathering inside or outside?
Outside gatherings are inherently safer, but even if you opt for a backyard cookout, the CDC still recommends diligent social distancing and mask usage. If your event will take place inside, think carefully about limiting your guest list to allow people room to spread out. And take a look at the ventilation in your home to see if there are opportunities to improve air flow.
It’s also important, for everyone’s safety, to make sure that your guests have been taking responsibility for their health by consistently practicing social distancing, staying home as much as possible, wearing masks, and following hand-washing guidelines. It’s not enough for your guests to adhere to these rules on the day of your gathering, they should be following them all the time.
It almost goes without saying that certain people should not attend. This includes anyone who has symptoms, has been diagnosed with COVID-19, is waiting for COVID-19 test results, or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
Finally, as hard as it is, think extra carefully about including family members and friends who are at higher risk of complications with COVID-19. These may include older folks as well as people with pre-existing respiratory and other conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous.
Hosting with Safety in Mind
With your carefully considered guest list finalized, you can focus on how to keep those guests safe and comfortable during your event. The CDC offers a lot of detail on best practices for dinner parties and other kinds of gatherings, but here are a few highlights:
- Avoid direct contact between guests. This means no hugs or handshakes, and definitely no kisses from Aunt Martha. Six feet is still the recommended distance to maintain whether you are indoors or outside.
- Maximize the quality of your ventilation. If you are hosting an indoor gathering, steer clear of crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. If weather permits, opening windows and doors can make a positive difference.
- Ensure that your guests are seated with physical distancing in mind. Space your seating out so that it does not inadvertently encourage close groupings. This is not the year to have everyone hang out in the kitchen. Space people out in multiple rooms whenever possible.
- Require guests to wear masks. It’s hard—especially when eating is the main activity—but encouraging mask wearing between snacks is a smart move.
- Limit singing and shouting. While it may be tempting to burst into a round of impromptu carols or engage in an enthusiastic debate with Uncle Chris, singing and shouting (or even just projecting loudly) have consistently been shown to increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 in groups.
- Make hand sanitizer readily available throughout your home, and encourage frequent hand washing.
- Get everyone on the same page before they arrive. Provide your guests with an idea of what to expect by sharing the COVID-19 safety guidelines you’ll be observing ahead of time. You may even want to ask that guests avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
- Ask guests to support your efforts. Your guests can get involved by bringing their own supplies to help everyone to stay healthy. This might be extra masks or hand sanitizer, or it might be single-use cutlery and dining ware.
- Keep control of your kitchen. Too many cooks in the kitchen might be a fun part of most family holidays, but not in 2020. To help limit contact with commonly touched surfaces, think about preparing food ahead of time and assigning specific individuals to serve so that only one person is touching the serving utensils. Also—obviously—have those disinfectant wipes and sprays handy for frequent touch ups on tables, counters, and even doorknobs. If you have them, use touchless garbage cans to eliminate another possible point of shared contact.
- Isolate Fido and Fluffy. If you have pets, you may want to give them their dinner early and keep them away from guests. The CDC recommends treating four-legged family members like their human counterparts, and not allowing them to interact with people outside the household.
This holiday season won’t be easy, but it won’t be the end of the world either.
As hard as it is to break from tradition and miss out on seeing loved ones during the holidays, making that sacrifice now could save a lot of heartbreak in the future. But, if you decide to host or attend an in-person holiday event, just remember to take the CDC-recommended precautions for holiday gatherings. Even seemingly small efforts can make an enormous difference.
All of us at Czepiga Daly Pope & Perri wish you the best and brightest holiday season. It may not look the same as in years gone by, but that doesn’t mean the magic is gone.
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