Planning for the holidays during a pandemic brings up many questions and awkward conversations. Is it safe to host a family gathering or attend one? Should people wear masks and social distance? How should the rules be made clear? What if you want to skip all celebrations this year?
The season may be especially rough for families who experience holidays as major events. For some, the only things that come close are big occasions such as weddings and funerals. At the same time, infectious disease experts are worried people might let their guards down as the holidays approach.
Many families are already opting out from their usual holiday gatherings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that celebrating with members of your own household poses a low risk for COVID-19 spread. Other in-person gatherings may be riskier, depending on where they’re held, how long people are together, how many people attend, and where they’re coming from.
A good first step is to take inventory of your own COVID-19 risk and that of any loved ones in your circle, and decide whether it’s safe to attend or host. People who are over 60 or have underlying health issues like lung or heart disease should think twice about attending any events or family gatherings this year.
Begin having the conversation with your loved ones now and let them know as soon as possible whether you’ll host or attend so you can prepare everyone in advance. Don’t enter into extensive negotiations. If you’re the usual Thanksgiving host and decide you won’t do it this year, don’t engage in a back-and-forth exchange with relatives who want to change your mind. If you start negotiating, it just extends the pain. Make a decision and stick to it.
If you’re not attending an event, make sure to express your regrets: “I feel terrible about not coming. This has been agonizing – I wish it wasn’t so… I know it’s going to bother some people, but we concluded this is the best thing for us to do.” Explain it’s a personal health decision for you and that you’re hopeful everything will be back to normal next year.
Set your house rules in advance. If you’ll be requiring masks and social distancing, discuss it informally with your family members ahead of time. Make sure they’re willing to comply. Also keep in mind that holding a small family gathering outdoors where there’s good air circulation and room to social distance is a safer way to go, but it’s also not always realistic during the cold weather or rainy season.
Here’s what to keep in mind:
Open your windows or doors, if possible. The CDC noted that indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose a higher risk than those with good ventilation.
The problem with family gatherings is we don’t keep our physical distance. It might be helpful to space out the chairs at the dining table or prepare two dining tables and split the gathering into two groups so people don’t have to sit close together. Think twice about hugging your relatives as it’s a risky activity, and encourage your guests to bring and use their masks.
The CDC has recommended social gatherings of no more than ten people, but there’s no absolute number that experts know is safe. Keep in mind, the fewer, the better, and consider that the risk increases with more people.
Don’t attend a family gathering and don’t hold one if you’re experiencing any symptoms. If you’ve had close contact with anyone with COVID-19, you shouldn’t attend or host any events.
This won’t last forever; it’s just for a period of time, until we can celebrate in ways that are once again safe for everyone. Just knowing that makes it a little more bearable for all of us to enjoy this holiday season.
Lilly Wells is a freelance writer