“This holiday season is going to be different. It just is,” Barbara Alexander, president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told The Post’s Joel Achenbach in October. “It’s not what I want — but this is the pandemic we’ve been handed, so we’re going to have to celebrate differently.”
Think hard about the risks. Experts are aware of the emotional toll that may be exacted upon families who are separated for the holidays this year. But they have continued to emphasize the importance of thoroughly assessing all the risks gathering could pose to you and your loved ones.
For instance, if you live with someone who may have a greater chance of developing a serious case of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the CDC suggests thinking about what potential risk you could pose to that person by attending a holiday event. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, encouraged people to “reach for the delayed gratification this year.”
“Because what you don’t want is to celebrate this year and have fewer people at next year’s table,” Walensky said.
Keep the guest list small. The fewer people there are, the lower the chances will be that one of your guests could be infected. An interactive map recently developed by a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology shows how the risk that there is at least one virus-positive person at an event increases as gatherings get larger in different places.
Beyond not inviting people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus in the past 14 days or who are feeling unwell, you should also be wary of those who could have had close contact with an infected person. The CDC recently updated its definition of “close contact” to be someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
Arrange an outdoor meal, if possible. The coronavirus can spread through tiny droplets and particles that hang in the air for extended periods of time, especially in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Although eating indoors in restaurants or with people outside of your household has largely been discouraged, the CDC considers hosting a small outdoor dinner a moderate-risk activity.
Even when outdoors, your guests should be seated at least six feet apart, and everyone should keep their masks on when not eating or drinking. If multiple households are attending, sit them at separate, distanced tables.
Think twice about gathering in sealed tents, which may be akin to “creating indoor dining outdoors,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University. If you are considering tent dining, consider tailgate or pop-up tents with two or more open walls.
Stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Place bottles of hand sanitizer at each table — either one large bottle or a travel-size bottle at each seat.
Although the coronavirus is not believed to be commonly spread through contact with tainted surfaces, the CDC still recommends cleaning and disinfecting places and items that are frequently touched. Some high-touch surfaces include tables, doorknobs, counter tops, toilets, faucets and sinks, among others.
Exercise caution around shared food. A traditional holiday meal with platters of food being passed around the table or a buffet-style setup is not recommended.
Limit the number of people you have in the kitchen or any other areas where food preparation is happening, and avoid multiple people touching serving spoons. The CDC suggests either having guests bring their own food and drink or appointing one person to serve the food if you do plan on sharing. That person should be cleaning their hands well and often.
Improve ventilation of indoor spaces. If you choose to dine indoors, open the windows, try to maintain distance and keep your mask on when you aren’t eating or drinking. Think about eating in a large living room space where you can more easily spread out. Fans positioned at windows facing outward could also help with ventilation.
Keep your plans flexible. Given the uncertainty around community infection rates, potential exposures and weather, experts say it’s critical to keep an open mind about how the holidays may look this year and be prepared to adapt. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be celebrated on Nov. 26.
“Go with the party on the date the forecast looks most forgiving,” Taryn Williford, lifestyle director at Apartment Therapy, told The Post’s Jura Koncius. “Everyone is working from home; nobody will be going shopping. You can be flexible about it. The important part is the gathering and connection with people.”
Go virtual. Put aside that Zoom fatigue and host a virtual gathering with friends and family this year.
Koncius interviewed experts about tips for a successful virtual holiday. Among them: Consider having a moderator who can make sure everyone is engaged and having fun. Dress up for the occasion if that’s something your family enjoys doing. You can also involve your guests in “a shared ritual,” such as sending out ingredients for a cocktail or a recipe for macaroni and cheese, or delving into family history.
“Anything you can do to make a memory, this is the year to reinvent traditions, for sure,” Williford told Koncius.