COVID-19 (coronavirus) and holiday celebrations: Tips for gathering safely

Find out how to limit your risk of infection with the COVID-19 virus and protect others when hosting or attending an in-person gathering.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues, so do causes for celebration, such as holidays and special occasions. But how can you celebrate safely? Find out how to minimize the risks involved in hosting or attending an event.

Celebration considerations

When planning how to celebrate, consider that celebrating virtually or with members of your own household who are consistently following safety measures poses the lowest risk.

If you are organizing or considering attending a gathering, make sure you check any state or local health and safety laws, rules, and regulations that might apply. It's also important to consider the unique risks posed by each in-person event. To determine the level of risk involved, ask these questions:

  • What are the current levels of COVID-19? Check the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in your community, in the community where the event is being held and in the community where guests are coming from. The greater the numbers and rates, the greater the risk of infection and spread among guests.
  • Where is the event being held? Outdoor gatherings are safest. If weather permits, celebrate in your backyard or in a park. For indoor gatherings, opening windows and doors can ensure proper ventilation and help lower the risk. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose the greatest risk.
  • How long is the event? Longer gatherings pose a greater risk than shorter gatherings. Keep your event short.
  • How many people will attend? The greater the number of guests, the greater the risk. Keep the guest list small and make sure there is enough room to enable guests from different households to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. It's safest to only gather with people who live in your household.
  • Are the guests traveling? Spending time in airports, train stations, bus stations, rest stops and gas stations can expose guests to the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • Do the guests follow safety measures? Gatherings with guests who don't follow safety measures before or during the event pose a greater risk. Safety measures include avoiding close contact (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters) with others, wearing masks and washing hands. Use of alcohol can affect judgment and make it difficult to follow safety measures.

If you aren't comfortable with the level of risk involved, consider canceling, postponing or not attending the event. If you do plan to host or attend an event, have a conversation ahead of time with those involved to set expectations for how you'll celebrate together.

In-person events: Who should avoid them?

Don't host or attend an in-person event if you or anyone in your household:

  • Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and hasn't met the criteria for when it's safe to be around others
  • Has symptoms of COVID-19
  • Is waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test
  • May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • Is at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19

If you or someone you live with or work with is at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19, avoid in-person events with people outside of your household.

If you or your loved ones aren't able to attend an in-person gathering, you can still celebrate together virtually. Consider setting up a video during your holiday meal or other activities so that you can still see each other and spend time together.

Safety tips for hosts and guests at in-person gatherings

Hosts of in-person celebrations and guests can take several steps to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Before the celebration

The host can provide or guests can bring supplies to the event to promote safety, such as extra masks, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and tissues. It might be helpful to place markers on the floor about 6 feet (2 meters) apart to demonstrate and encourage social distancing. Ask each guest to bring a dry, breathable bag for mask storage between uses.

If the celebration involves people from different households, it's recommended that the host and guests consider strictly avoiding contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering. The host can also keep a list of guests and their contact information for potential future contact tracing.

During the celebration

During the event, it's important for the host and guests to continue following safety measures to keep everyone safe and protected from the COVID-19 virus. This can be particularly difficult when you're trying to celebrate with family and friends. Consider these tips:

  • Keep a safe distance. At the event, avoid close contact with others outside of your household. Avoid closely gathering around one table. Instead, provide multiple tables or seating areas so that people from different households can be at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Consider assigned seating. Also, avoid being in busy eating areas and using the restroom at high-traffic times. Instead of hugging or even bumping elbows, wave or verbally greet others. If you're planning activities for adults or kids, consider options that allow for social distancing, such as playing Frisbee.
  • Wear a mask. Keep masks on when you are around people who don't live in your household, except when eating or drinking. Avoid singing, chanting or shouting, especially when not wearing a mask and within 6 feet (2 meters) of others.
  • Encourage proper hygiene. Make sure everyone washes hands or uses hand sanitizer before and after preparing, serving and eating food. If you are hosting a gathering, provide plenty of soap and single-use towels or paper towels in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Promote safety around food and drinks. Limit people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared. Encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and members of their households only.

    If that's not possible, avoid self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets or drink stations. Consider having one person serve all of the food and sharable items, such as salad dressing or condiments. Or provide single servings of food and condiments. Wear a mask if you're preparing or serving food to people outside of your household. You might consider having guests use disposable plates, utensils and cups. Wash and disinfect any reusable items, such as cloth napkins and tablecloths, after the event.

  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces. Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and shared items between uses. Provide or use touchless garbage cans, if available. Wear gloves when disposing of trash.

Also, don’t allow pets to interact with people outside of their household.

After the celebration

After the event, if you feel that you were in close contact with many people from different households or that you may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, take extra precautions for 14 days. Stay at home as much as possible, avoid being around people at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19, and consider getting tested for COVID-19. While you are waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, stay at home and follow safety measures.

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or you test positive for COVID-19, immediately contact the host and other guests who attended the event. This can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring that others get tested or stay home and away from others, if needed.

Celebrations will involve extra planning this year. But taking safety precautions can allow you and your family and friends to celebrate and minimize the risk of becoming infected with or spreading the COVID-19 virus.

Jan. 14, 2021 See more In-depth

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