We are now days away from Christmas and many of us are probably trying to figure out what our celebrations will look like this year. Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) have recommendations on how to safely celebrate and suggestions for alternate celebrations to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Things to consider
The option that poses the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread is still to only celebrate with members of your own household (anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your home including family members or roommates). People who do not currently live in your home, such as college students returning home from school or family living in another house, should not be considered part of your households. In-person gatherings that bring together individuals from separate households increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.
If you are considering hosting an event with multiple households should take several things into consideration. There are many factors that can contribute to the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 at small in-person gatherings. These factors include:
- Local spread of COVID-19. High or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in you community or in communities where your guests are coming from increases the risk of infection and spread among attendees. You can find county and even zipcode specific COVID-19 case data at coronavirus.ohio.gov.
- Travel exposure. Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to COVID-19, especially during the holiday season when the volume of travelers is increased. If you or your guests have to travel through these types of locations, you may want to reconsider an in-person gathering.
- Venue of the gathering. Indoor gatherings pose a greater risk than outdoor gatherings. Since we are in Ohio, it’s likely that an outdoor gathering may be impossible due to weather. If you choose to host an indoor gathering, try to choose a larger space where guests can keep their distance. You should also consider whether the space has poor ventilation and try to open windows to introduce outside air if possible.
- Gathering duration. The longer the gathering, the greater the risk. Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVD-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increase the risk of becoming sick.
- Number of people and crowding at gathering. Gatherings with more people pose a greater risk. The Ohio Department of Health signed a health order in April limiting mass gatherings to 10 people and that remains in effect. However, the most important consideration is the ability of attendees from different households to stay six feet apart based on the number of guests and the location.
- Behavior of attendees leading up to the event. Individuals who were more relaxed with social distancing, mask wearing, handwashing, and other preventative measures pose a greater risk than those who were strict about consistently practicing safety measures.
- Behavior of attendees during the event. There are many precautions you can put in place at your event to limit the spread of COVID-19. Outline these expectations ahead of time and make sure all of your guests are on board with following your precautions.
Precautions to take if you do decide to gather
After taking all of the above into consideration, if you decide you are in a place to safely host an in-person gathering, start thinking about how you can do so safely.
- Understand who should not attend your gathering. If someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not been cleared by their primary care provider or the health department, has symptoms consistent with COvID-19, is waiting for COVID-19 test results, may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days, or is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 they should not attend an in-person gathering.
- Require everyone to wear a mask whenever they are not eating or drinking even if the event is outdoors. The mask should cover the nose and mouth.
- Limit the number of attendees as much as possible and think about how you can set up your event space to allow for 6 feet of distance between guests at all times. 6 feet should still be maintained even if the event is outdoors and guests are wearing masks.
- Practice proper hand hygiene. Guest should wash hands often and sanitize between washes if hands are not visibly soiled.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently.
- Avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with guests from different households.
- Try to host the event outdoors.
- If you do host it indoors, increase ventilation by opening windows and doors or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
- Avoid singing our shouting. Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
If you decide to avoid the risk of an in-person gathering, there are still plenty of things you can do to celebrate. In this day and age, we have technology at our disposal that can allow us to be together even though we may physically be far apart. Here are some ideas for virtual or distanced celebrations for this holiday season.
- Drive-by caroling to surprise loved ones. Sing from the car while your friends or family stand at their front door!
- Host a virtual caroling party and sing your favorite holiday songs.
- Decorate your house and invite loved ones to drive by and see your light display. You can even leave out pre-wrapped cookies for them. You can also organize it with your neighborhood and walk around to see the lights.
- Have a virtual Christmas movie night where you watch your favorite Christmas flick together and drink hot cocoa.
- Hold a virtual tree trimming. Call up your friend or family member and decorate your respective trees while you listen to music.
- Create a holiday season to-do list or bingo card with ideas for celebrating the holiday such as paper snowflake making, gingerbread houses, baking cookies, or writing to Santa. Share your list with family and friends and touch base regularly to compare your progress.
We want to remind everyone that these are only suggestions based on the best information we currently have available. They are in line with current recommendations from the National Institute of Health, the CDC, and ODH. You can find more information at cdc.gov/coronavirus, coronavirus.ohio.gov, nih.gov, and fishertitus.org/coronavirus.
However you choose to celebrate, we are wishing everyone a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season!
About Dr. Hanna
Dr. John Hanna is a physician with Fisher-Titus Family Medicine – New London. He is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Practice. Dr. Hanna has 20 years of experience serving patients in nearby Ashland, Ohio. He sees patients of all ages, specializing in treating older adults with more complex medical issues. Dr. Hanna is currently accepting new patients. To make an appointment, call 419-929-4357 or visit fishertitus.org/schedule.