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What the CDC Says About Staying Safe This Holiday Season

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The CDC has information on how to celebrate the holidays responsibly. AleksandarNakic / Getty Images
  • With the holiday season approaching, the CDC has released a list of how to stay safe while celebrating.
  • Recommendations focus on safety precautions like staying outdoors, keeping a distance, and wearing masks.
  • The CDC also advises talking to your guests about their behavior and taking into account whether or not the novel coronavirus is spreading widely in the community.

With the holidays fast approaching, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a set of recommendations detailing ways people can keep their seasonal gatherings safe.

The recommendations focus on many of the safety precautions that have been suggested throughout the pandemic — staying outdoors, keeping a distance, and wearing masks.

The CDC also introduced a few new strategies, like looking at your guests’ behavior in recent weeks, evaluating community transmission in your area, and limiting the size and duration of gatherings.

Here are seven ways to keep your holiday gatherings safe:

1. Take your gatherings outside

There’s plenty of evidence showing that outdoor activities are typically much safer than indoor ones.

The coronavirus is airborne and spreads readily indoors, particularly in buildings with poor ventilation.

“When people are outside, they can physically distance and airflow is increased, so this decreases the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Jennifer Schuster, the director of the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says wind disperses virus particles, even if people are closer than 6 feet to one another. Even so, it’s crucial to keep a mask on to stay protected from larger respiratory droplets.

Schuster says to get creative when it gets cold out. Bring out the jackets, hats, gloves, and blankets so you can still be safe when spending time with loved ones.

If you choose to dine out, remember outdoor dining is much safer than indoors. Wear a mask in between eating and drinking, as this is when people may have an elevated risk of contracting the virus, Glatter notes.

2. Look at community transmission

Looking at your state and county’s community transmission, or an estimation of how prevalent COVID-19 is in the area, is a good way to gauge what the local risk is like.

People who live in or are traveling from an area with higher rates of transmission are more likely to have COVID-19, according to Schuster.

It’s not always obvious who has COVID-19. Some people who’ve contracted the coronavirus may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and still be able to spread the virus.

Glatter says it’s best to avoid hosting people from high-transmission areas.

“While quarantining and being tested before and after travel will reduce risk to others, it still is not a 100 percent guarantee against breaking the chain of transmission,” Glatter said.

Everyone may need to lean on video-chatting tools like Zoom and FaceTime a bit more this holiday season.

3. Limit the duration of gatherings

How sick a person gets with COVID-19 largely depends on how much of the virus they were exposed to and how long they were exposed. In general, the less time people are exposed to someone with COVID-19, the lower their risk of getting sick.

There’s no magic number that’ll guarantee a gathering will be safe, says Schuster.

It boils down to a number of factors: airflow, ventilation, viral load, a person’s susceptibility, and whether people are wearing masks.

“It’s as simple as this: The longer you spend indoors, the greater your risk for contracting, but also spreading the virus,” Glatter said.

4. Put a cap on the number of people attending

The more people you’re around, the greater the risk you’ll be exposed to COVID-19. So, the fewer people you host, the safer you and your guests will be.

Some experts have suggested limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

That said, the most important thing, according to Glatter, is physical distancing.

“The chain of transmission occurs when people let their guard down, especially if they are drinking alcohol, move closer together, speak louder, and remove their masks. This very fact increases the potential for transmission,” Glatter said.

5. Assess your guests’ behavior in recent weeks

During the pandemic, it’s hard to find two people who are on the exact same page about what is and isn’t safe.

That’s why health experts recommend gauging guests’ behavior in the days and weeks leading up to the holidays.

“Have they been in contact with large groups of people at a recent superspreader event? Do they engage in frequent indoor or outdoor dining?” Glatter suggested asking.

Have an open, honest conversation with your guests and ask them what sort of activities they’ve been up to.

“People should be honest with others about their own actions and feel empowered to ask their guests about guests’ activities before they see them,” Schuster said.

If they’ve been riskier, feel free to suggest a safer activity or visit. You may also want to ask your guests to take a rapid diagnostic test.

6. Wear your masks

Physical distancing and mask wearing are two of the best things people can do to lower their risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Remember: The coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets. Masks add another layer between you and others’ droplets.

“Simply put, wearing a mask not only protects others around you, it may also help to protect yourself by reducing the actual viral load if you happen to contract the virus,” Glatter said.

A properly fitted N95 mask will lower your risk even more than a standard cloth or surgical mask. But these can be difficult to get since they’re being reserved for people working in healthcare. KN95 masks are another option that may provide more protection than a cloth mask.

Masks should also be worn not only indoors, but outdoors too.

“Even outside, we can find ourselves in crowded spaces where we can’t physically distance, particularly when multiple people may be together,” Schuster said.

7. Be vigilant about hand hygiene

Lastly, keep sanitizing high touch surfaces — like doorknobs, television remotes, and refrigerators — and washing your hands.

Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from COVID-19. Wash thoroughly and often, experts advise.

“Wash your hands when coming inside your house from outside, before you eat, after you use the restroom, before touching your face, and anytime they are dirty,” Schuster said.