On Your Health

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The Holidays During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like everything else this year, the holidays will be different than normal due to COVID-19. Many are experiencing mental and emotional fatigue from practicing social distancing guidelines for more than eight months. We are all yearning for quality time with our loved ones, and with the holidays right around the corner, you may be wondering what is and isn’t safe.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are surging around the world, making this holiday season even more uncertain. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released guidelines to help you assess the risk level of various holiday celebrations, so you can enjoy a safe and happy holiday season. 

Guidelines for holiday celebrations during COVID

The key to celebrating the holidays during a pandemic is being able to assess risks and make informed decisions. According to the CDC, low-risk activities are recommended for everyone, especially people with an increased risk of severe illness. 

Low-risk holiday festivities include celebrating the holidays only with members of your household, meaning your immediate family or roommates who live with you. You can also celebrate virtually with loved ones outside of your household. This scenario is the safest option to prevent the spread of disease and keep high-risk loved ones healthy.

If you have symptoms, have possibly been exposed or have recently tested positive for COVID-19, you should not attend any in-person gatherings within 14 days of exposure. If you or someone in your household has a high risk of severe illness — including the elderly or people with underlying conditions — you should avoid holiday gatherings with anyone outside your household. 

However, if you do plan to celebrate the holidays with people outside of your household — for example, a college student returning home — it’s important to know and manage risk factors before you partake in group festivities. 

COVID risk factors

There are a variety of factors that affect your risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19 at a holiday gathering. While it’s recommended to celebrate with members of your household, you can assess your own risk by gauging the following factors before getting together to celebrate the holidays.

  • Community levels - When it comes to COVID-19 cases, every community is different. However, in many communities, including several Oklahoma counties, cases are surging as the weather gets colder and people are forced indoors. Follow the Oklahoma State Department of Health guidelines for community risk and be mindful of the level of virus spread in your community before hosting or attending a holiday gathering.
  • Exposure during travel - Traveling puts individuals at a higher risk of contracting the virus. If you have family members who must travel to spend the holidays together, including college students, be mindful that they pose a higher risk to you and others unless they can quarantine for 14 days after traveling. Read our tips for how to stay safe if you’re traveling during COVID-19
  • Ventilation - If you are planning to host a small holiday gathering, outdoor festivities are recommended with social distancing and mask wearing. If you live in a cold climate and must celebrate the holidays indoors, ventilation is important to circulate the air. Open windows and doors, and invest in an air purifier. 
  • Length of time - According to the CDC, spending more than 15 minutes with someone outside your household poses a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. So, the shorter the gathering, the better. 
  • Number of people - The number of people present at a holiday gathering affects everyone’s ability to social distance. It’s recommended to host a smaller gathering, preferably outdoors, so everyone can social distance throughout. 
  • Attendee behaviors before the event - Make sure all holiday gathering attendees have been practicing safe COVID-19 behaviors prior to the event. This includes social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing. Avoid gathering with people who have not been following COVID-19 guidelines or partake in high-risk daily activities for work or school. 
  • Attendee behaviors during the event - Set expectations for behaviors during the event. Everyone in attendance should follow COVID-19 guidance of social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing at all times.

Suggestions for COVID-safe holiday festivities

  • Celebrate within your household. While this may be a smaller, more intimate holiday season, you can make the holidays special with the people in your home. It may feel like you are missing out on your typical holiday experience, so make sure you include each individual’s favorite holiday traditions in your festivities. 
  • Connect with extended family virtually. With technology, you can still spend the holiday with extended family. Use video conferencing to call extended family, especially the elderly, so they can be a part of your celebrations at home. 
  • Plan outdoor activities with family members outside of your household. Going for an outdoor walk or sitting by the fire in the backyard are great ways to connect with extended family. Remember to social distance and wear masks. 
  • Drop off gifts for family members outside your household. No matter the holiday, you can stop by for a socially distant chat and to drop off gifts. This is especially thoughtful for elderly or at-risk family members, so they know you are thinking of them over the holidays.

We know this holiday season may be challenging, but remember to check in on your loved ones, connect virtually and follow social distancing guidelines. For more COVID-19 updates and healthy living tips, visit our On Your Health blog


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