Even with the COVID-19 vaccine being distributed across the U.S., we need to continue staying vigilant through the winter holidays to help slow the spread of the virus. While it may seem unnatural to turn down invitations to visit with family and friends at this time of year, it's important to remember that there's a good reason for it.
That doesn't mean you have to skip the holidays altogether. There are many ways to celebrate — even while following the COVID-19 safety guidelines recommended by public health officials. Remember, following these rules will not only help keep you from getting sick, but it'll also help you protect your friends and loved ones, especially those who may be at higher risk like the elderly and others with preexisting conditions.
Safe ways to celebrate the holidays
If you want to be as safe as possible this holiday season, but you're not sure what the best strategies are, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers easy-to-follow guidelines on its website for managing holiday celebrations and small gatherings this winter.
With coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths on the rise across the country, the safest way to celebrate is "at home with people who live with you," according to the CDC. If you want to celebrate with others who don't live with you, a virtual celebration is the option that poses the lowest risk.
Even small in-person gatherings are risky, though indoor gatherings are riskier than outdoor ones, notes the CDC. The duration of the gathering is a factor, too, as those exposed to someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more significantly increases the risk of contracting the virus.
Tips for hosting or attending a gathering
Despite the strong recommendations to stay home and celebrate only with members of one's own household, many Americans are still planning to celebrate with others.
If you're planning to attend or host a small celebration, the CDC advises you to:
Discuss expectations ahead of time with your host (or guests, if you're hosting)
Check COVID infection rates in the area
Limit the number of people at the gathering
Host gatherings outdoors when possible
Open windows for better ventilation, if staying indoors
Require guests to wear masks, keep distance and wash hands frequently
And remember, even though pop-up tents and outdoor dining bubbles have become a popular way to dine out with others, some pose less risk than others. The ones that are open on the sides or that can be rolled up from the bottom tend to provide more air circulation so the CDC considers them a safer choice.
How to handle food and drinks
"Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or eating is associated with directly spreading COVID-19," according the CDC. "It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, including food, food packaging or utensils that have the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes."
When eating and drinking at a holiday gathering, the CDC advises:
Guests to bring food for themselves or their own households
Wearing masks while preparing food and drinks or serving anyone who isn't a member of your household
Taking advantage of single-option servings, like this awesome-looking "jarcuterie," when feasible (or designating one person to serve sharable items)
Everyone to wash their hands for 20 seconds before handling or consuming food or drink and after taking out the trash
Keep Spirits High
Don't worry. Christmas 2020 isn't canceled. Just because it's safer to do things differently this year, doesn't mean you can't still have fun! Do a socially-distanced cookie swap, try making a special recipe like these Peppermint-Brownie Christmas cookies, construct a gingerbread house from scratch, design your first "charcuterwreath," mix up some Christmas cocktails or start a new tradition like Hoda Kotb did with her daughters.
After all, the spirit of the season is really that we are all in this together, and there's a light at the end of the tunnel in 2021!