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Holiday Gatherings During COVID-19

After a very challenging year, people are looking forward to the holiday season and the comfort and joy of family traditions. Unfortunately, those traditions will likely look different this year, but that doesn’t mean they are any less special. The following tips and information can help you make this holiday season special while keeping you and your loved ones safe.

Traveling for the Holidays

The safest way to engage in holiday celebrations in-person is by celebrating with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends outside your home increases your risk for getting or spreading COVID-19.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

Give serious thought before traveling out of town (or state) to visit family and friends. Familiarize yourself with the COVID-19 circumstances where you live, where you’re traveling to and the path along the way. Many places across the U.S. are renewing or revising their travel advisories as COVID-19 cases rise rapidly. You may be required to get a COVID-19 test, self-monitor for 14 days or limit daily activities upon arrival to your destination or after returning. With these and similar travel advisories, keep in mind that testing is not the end all, be all – it’s one tool of many to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“People tend to let their guard down around family members and close friends, but now is not the time to give in to pandemic fatigue,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Especially as we spend more time indoors, the more people you come in contact with, the higher your risk.”

Contact tracing data shows that most new cases are occurring from family gatherings and small house parties. Resist the urge to think “I know them, they’re safe.” The coronavirus does not distinguish between known contacts and strangers.

Planning Ahead This Holiday Season

It can be challenging to have conversations around COVID-19 if family members and friends don’t have the same mindset or viewpoint. However these conversations should still occur.

By having conversations in advance, everyone gets a chance to share their concerns and you can avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation later.

  • Approach conversations with clear objectives of what you want to communicate and accomplish.
  • Set clear boundaries and don’t waver from your values. For example, if you’re not comfortable eating at an indoor restaurant with extended family, make that known.
  • Be aware of false rumors surrounding COVID-19 and rely on reputable sources to make your decisions.

Find New Ways to Make the Holidays Special

  • Utilize technology. It’s safe to say our comfort level with technology has increased this year. Consider putting these skills to good use on video calls. For example, rather than opening holiday gifts together in person, mail gifts ahead of time and decide on a day and time to open them together.
  • Reimagine a family tradition. Perhaps there’s a certain dish everyone in your family looks forward to every year. Send around the recipe and have everyone make it themselves. Then organize a video call, raise a glass and enjoy the dish socially together, while physically apart.
  • Reminisce about past holidays. Nostalgia can be a huge source of comfort and make people feel safe. “Anything that can help you calm yourself down, feel more soothed, feel more grounded, is very useful,” says Dr. Stoycheva, a clinical psychologist specializing in traumatic stress. “So if you watch a movie and remember who you watched it with as a kid, and maybe connect with that person and you reach out to them instead of just drowning in isolation, that can be really helpful.”

Maintain Health and Safety Precautions During the Celebration

If you do decide to travel this holiday season or see people outside your household, follow these practices to reduce your risk:

  • Limit the number of attendees if you’re hosting; ask how many people will be there if you’re attending someone else’s gathering.
  • Host outdoor activities instead of indoor activities if possible. If you must be indoors, avoid situations that are crowded, poorly ventilated and in a fully enclosed space.
  • Limit the number of gatherings you attend. Avoid contact with people outside your household for 14 days before events.
  • Stay home if you or someone in your household is not feeling well.
  • Wear a clean facial covering when not eating or drinking, follow hand hygiene and social distancing protocols.

By accepting the current situation, not dwelling on past holidays and keeping an open mind about what’s to come for this holiday season, you’re much more likely to enjoy the coming weeks.

[Emily Smith is the LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Manager.]

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