Holidays During COVID: Celebrating Safely in 2020

It’s a conversation many of us are having with friends and family right now: how will we celebrate the holidays this year, given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic? While each household is approaching this holiday season a little differently, we at Women’s Health Connecticut would like to provide you with considerations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so you can make the best decisions for you and your family. We also asked our own employees how they’re planning to stay safe, and if they’ve found any silver linings to their altered plans despite the sacrifices being made.

Though it may be disappointing to forego time-honored traditions this year, it’s in everyone’s best interest to err on the side of caution. In a tragic example from Maine, an August wedding led to outbreaks that eventually infected 178 people and killed 7. None of the seriously ill or the deceased had been guests at the wedding. "This report provides a cautionary tale for people as they consider how to celebrate the winter holidays. The gatherings at the center of this outbreak occurred in a rural area that had seen almost no evidence of COVID-19," according to a Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention official.

As people spend more time indoors due to colder weather, it’s important to remain vigilant about COVID safety. Staying at home this holiday season is the best way to protect yourself and others, according to the CDC. Celebrating only with your household or those in your “bubble” can prevent exposure to the virus and transmission to others in your community. If that isn’t an option, here are tips from the CDC on how to host a COVID-conscious holiday gathering:

  • If possible, host an outdoor gathering instead of an indoor one.

  • Talk to your guests ahead of time to ensure that they have been avoiding contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the celebration.

  • Limit the number of guests to ensure that people from separate households will have enough space to stay 6 feet apart. Guests should avoid handshakes and hugs.

  • Require your guests to wear masks (covering the mouth and nose) at all times when not eating or drinking, both indoors and outdoors.

  • Ask your guests to wash their hands often or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

  • If indoors, open windows and doors to increase ventilation, or place central air and heating on continuous circulation.

  • Designate one person to serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils. Sanitize other commonly touched surfaces (like doorknobs) when possible.

Safety precautions are most effective when everyone works together to keep themselves and others safe. We know that in some cases, encouraging your guests to comply with these suggestions may be challenging. If you anticipate having difficulty enforcing basic health and safety precautions in your home, it may be a good idea to reconsider holding a “normal” gathering this year. You might choose to host a virtual dinner or get creative with family traditions instead. Remember, you’re doing the best that you can, and the pandemic won’t last forever!

Here’s how Women’s Health employees are celebrating this year:

“We will be staying home and not spending time with extended family and friends in person. We are doing more video chats in lieu of being in an enclosed space. It will be a little sad, but we would rather keep everyone safe. These sacrifices are worth it so that we can do our part to keep the infection rate low, in hopes that things will get back to a more normal place. I wouldn’t want to infect someone unknowingly, or get sick from someone that could be asymptomatic. The silver lining for me is I won’t be as rushed during the holiday season. I will be able to take the time to enjoy the holidays without feeling the need to get out and go to every party that I would have been invited to. I can also wear fun holiday-themed masks!” -Jillian, Electronic Medical Records

“I come from a very big Italian family. Normally we are 25 plus. This year, we are scaling back to only have a portion of our family. Those of us that are working and in school are planning on getting a COVID test the weekend before the holiday and then limiting our interactions to be sure we don’t get any new exposures between when we take our test and when we see each other. None of us want to get the virus but we are especially worried about my mom, 83, and my cousin, 68. These sacrifices are worth it because family means a lot to all of us.” -Connie, Finance

“We have decided to do a small Thanksgiving gathering with my parents who we still see regularly. All of our out of state relatives will call in on Facetime. I don’t see these as optional sacrifices, they seem more like safety necessities. I think it might be nice to have a holiday season where we are not rushing to events constantly. I am excited to enjoy time with my children with no event to rush off to. We can stay in our holiday PJs all day and be cozy.” -Meghan, Credentialing

“My family isn’t getting together this year to make sure everyone stays safe, as we’d all be coming from different states. It’s somewhat of a relief that we won’t have to worry about potentially endangering vulnerable relatives. While I’ll miss everyone and our food traditions, now I get to order a fancy takeout meal instead of cooking!” -Teagan, Marketing

“The silver lining in the adjustments we are making this year is the return to simplicity. Usually we are at gatherings with 30 to 40 people and my son will disappear to hang out with his cousins. This year, it’s just us in our PJs by the fire, being grateful for our blessings and for each other.” -Mo, CBO

A message from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Saidel:

“I too will be celebrating at home with my immediate family. We usually host a big celebration and we have promised to reschedule for after the pandemic. We won’t miss the multiple trips to the airport, the train or bus station, the massive cleanup and preparation and those special Thanksgiving family dynamics. We will cook and bake, and do a contactless exchange of our favorite pies with our neighbors. And we will do our favorite thing: watch the Macy’s parade even if it’s only one block long this year. 

The holiday season is a celebration of life, light, and renewal. We hope that next year’s festivities can be much more of what we are used to, and also a Thanksgiving for having come through this pandemic. In order for that to happen we need to double and triple down now, as how we all behave during the next few months will make all the difference in how many families mourn or celebrate, how many people have to deal with being told that they have tested positive for the virus, and literally how many will live or die. It’s hard; it’s really hard to have to change our lives so fundamentally in so many ways. But history and science tell us that if we take this seriously, it will be over faster, with less loss of life and health. Please be careful, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant and err on the side of caution when making your Thanksgiving plans. There will be more leftovers, so enjoy!”

Women’s Health Connecticut wishes you and your family a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season. We will get through this together! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider with questions or concerns.