Your guide to socially distant holidays

When it comes to the holidays, celebrating virtually or only with members of your household is the best way to guard against COVID-19. But if you do decide to host or attend a holiday gathering with people you don’t live with, there are steps you can take to make them a bit safer.

First, don’t host or attend a holiday gathering if you:

  • Are sick or live with someone who’s sick, with COVID-19 or another illness
  • Have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days
  • Have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Are waiting for COVID-19 test results
  • Live with someone who’s at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19

When making holiday plans, it’s also key to understand what activities and behaviors increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

Factors that increase risk of infection include:

  • Community levels: Higher levels of COVID-19 in your town, or cities where attendees are coming from increases risk. Also, the more locations people are traveling from, the higher the risk. Consult local health department websites to check these levels.
  • Location: Indoor and poorly ventilated gatherings pose more risk.
  • Duration: Gatherings that last longer pose a higher risk.
  • Number of people: Gatherings with more people pose more risk. While the CDC doesn’t specify a number, they encourage hosts to limit gatherings to a number where all attendees can stay 6 feet apart.
  • Behavior: Guests who don’t adhere to social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and other preventive measures before or during the event increase everyone’s risk.

Hosting a holiday gathering

Before the event:

Invite as few people as possible, and preferably only people who live nearby. If you invite guests who must travel to attend, share tips for traveling safely.

  • Give all guests safety guidelines for COVID-19 before the event.
  • State that everyone is required to wear a mask unless seated or eating.
  • Instead of potluck-style gatherings, encourage guests to bring food and drinks for their household.
  • Shop online rather than in person.
  • Provide and encourage guests to bring extra masks, hand sanitizer and tissues.
  • Consider asking guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Request that guests get a flu shot before attending.

Get the facts on flu prevention, treatment & nutrition here.

And don’t be afraid to get creative to encourage people to stick to preventive measures. Hold a contest for best holiday mask and give a small prize, or post funny signs to promote social distance.

During the event:

  • Host activities outdoors if possible.
  • If you must be indoors, make sure ventilation is good, and open windows or doors.
  • Block or shut doors to small spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.
  • Seat households together and place tables 6 feet apart.
  • Ask people not to shake hands, bump elbows or give hugs but instead wave and verbally greet each other.
  • Avoid singing, chanting or shouting, especially when not wearing a mask.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible.
  • Use touchless garbage cans or remove the tops so people don’t need to touch them to throw things away.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Food & drink

Currently, there’s no evidence that handling food directly spreads COVID-19. However, a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object — food, packaging, utensils — that have the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.

If food or drink will be shared at your gathering:

  • Make sure everyone washes their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving and eating.
  • Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol around the gathering.
  • Limit people going in and out of food-prep areas, such as the kitchen or around the grill.
  • Wear a mask while preparing or serving food to people outside of your household.
  • Delegate one person to serve all the food so multiple people aren’t handling utensils.
  • Offer single-use salad dressings, plates, utensils and condiments.
  • Avoid self-serve options such as buffets, potlucks or drink stations.
  • Limit the use of alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgement and increase risky behaviors.

After the event

  • Wear gloves and a mask while cleaning up.
  • If you use any reusable items such as tablecloths or napkins, wash and disinfect them.
  • Clean surfaces using soap and water, then use disinfectant.
  • Visit the CDC website for a complete guide to cleaning and disinfecting.

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, or if you test positive for COVID-19, immediately contact everyone who attended your holiday celebration. Ask anyone who attended to let you know if they test positive as well.

Stay safer by staying socially distant

No matter the precautions you take, gathering for the holidays puts you at higher risk of COVID-19 than virtual alternatives.

Avoid these higher risk activities:

  • Going shopping in crowded stores
  • Attending crowded parades or sporting events
  • Attending large indoor gatherings with people outside of your household

Consider these low- or no-risk holiday ideas:

  • Prepare recipes and deliver/send them to family or friends in a contactless way.
  • Host a virtual dinner and share recipes with friends and family.
  • Watch sports, parades or holiday movies at home.
  • Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
  • Visit pumpkin patches, orchards or lights displays where people are committed to using hand sanitizer, wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
  • Visit drive-through holiday displays.

For all updates about coronavirus from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, click here.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.