Is It Safe for You to Attend Holiday Gatherings During COVID-19?

Holiday gatherings during COVID-19 may be life-threatening.

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Despite the joy and comfort of holiday celebrations, in-person gatherings provide an ideal setting for COVID-19 to spread easily. For some people, these gatherings may lead to a life-threatening infection.

So who should especially avoid holiday gatherings during COVID-19? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages indoor gatherings of any kind. For holiday celebrations, public health experts recommend everyone try lower-risk holiday activities instead, such as virtual gatherings.

Risks of Holiday Gatherings During COVID-19

Holiday gatherings often involve several different families traveling from multiple cities (or even states). This may allow the virus to spread from one geographic area to another. For example, your community may be successfully containing or avoiding COVID-19, but your uncle from the next state over could bring the virus with him, causing an outbreak in your community.

Because the holiday season occurs in the winter, it’s difficult for some people to gather outside, where the ventilation lowers the risk of coronavirus transmission. If you’re eating (as is common at holiday gatherings), you’ll also have to take off masks. This means you may have several unmasked people gathered together inside, which significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Who Shouldn’t Attend?

The people who shouldn’t attend holiday gatherings during COVID-19 include those who pose a threat to others, and those who may have serious complications of COVID-19. This includes:

1. People in at-risk groups

The symptoms of COVID-19 vary widely from person to person. It may be severe, even for people who are young and otherwise healthy. However, some people are more likely to have serious illness and complications, such as pneumonia. This includes older adults, and people with underlying conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

2. People who live with someone in an at-risk group

If you contract the virus at the holiday gathering, you may bring it back to your home and put the other person at risk.

3. People having COVID-19 symptoms

This includes fever, cough, and shortness of breath. People having symptoms of COVID-19 should isolate at home to avoid spreading the infection to others.

4. People who have been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days

Yeah, it’s frustrating: You had plans for the holidays, and then you get the notice that you’ve had contact with someone who has tested positive. It’s tempting to think, “Well, I’m not having symptoms, so I’ll take my chances.” However, you may be asymptomatic and put others at risk if you attend. That’s why it’s important to quarantine for 14 days after exposure.

5. People who had COVID-19 but aren’t “clear” to end isolation

If you tested positive but you’re no longer having symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to gather. There are a number of potential indicators that the disease has passed and you’re no longer contagious, but the best indicator is when your doctor gives you the “okay.”

6. Anyone who has to travel far to attend

... especially if they're coming from an area with an outbreak. Traveling may transfer an outbreak from one community to another. Plus, traveling by plane or train may expose you to risky conditions, such as crowded airports or people wearing masks incorrectly.

Holidays may be the time for festive gatherings, but be careful with the people you care about. Even if you don't fit into any of the above categories, you should still take extra caution with your holiday plans. For more tips, here are ways to host a safer holiday gathering during COVID-19.