Celebrating holidays amid COVID-19: How the CDC says you can gather safely with your families

The holidays are coming up fast — and with them, questions about how to safely celebrate during the ongoing pandemic.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is now warning that the holidays can lead to even more outbreaks of COVID-19. “What we're seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings,” Redfield said in a call with the nation’s governors, per CNN. “Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it's really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting.”

Virtual holiday gatherings may be in the cards this year, depending on weather, location and more, according to new CDC holiday guidelines. (Photo: Getty Images)
Virtual holiday gatherings may be in the cards this year, depending on weather, location and more, according to new CDC holiday guidelines. (Photo: Getty Images)

Redfield’s remarks come on the heels of a CDC report issued late last week about 13-year-old who spread COVID-19 to 11 different family members over four states during a family road trip.

With the aim of mitigating such spread, the CDC has issued guidance on how to celebrate the holidays, breaking down recommendations for the safest way to partake — based on low-risk, moderate-risk and high-risk activities.

For Halloween, the CDC says it’s best to stick to activities with members of your household — or with others, as long as you’re socially distanced. Examples include carving pumpkins outdoors with neighbors while spread out and trick-or-treating around your house rather than going out in public and mingling with others.

For Thanksgiving, the CDC recommends having a small dinner with just the people in your household, hosting a virtual dinner with extended family and shopping online rather than interacting closely with people outside of your usual circle. The CDC also discourages traditional Thanksgiving festivities like going to parades, going shopping or doing a turkey trot race. (Having a small outdoor dinner with extended family is considered “moderate” risk, per the CDC.)

The CDC hasn’t yet offered up recommendations for Christmas or Hanukkah, but they will likely be coming as those holidays approach.

While each holiday is slightly different, the overarching advice is still the same, Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “The label of the holiday doesn’t matter,” he says. “It’s all about small gatherings. If everybody lives in the same household, there’s not much of an added risk. But the risk is when you have extended family or people not in the circle you regularly mix with together. They could spread the virus.”

In general, “Outdoors is always safer than indoors,” Adalja says, but he admits that can be tricky to pull off as the weather gets cooler. You can also keep an eye on your local COVID-19 case counts, but that won’t matter much if you’re gathering with people from other areas, Dr. Adalja points out.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that it’s important to have candid conversations with friends and families ahead of holiday celebrations. “It’s a good idea to find out if all the participants have been on the same page in regard to safety,” he says. “It would not be a good idea to have older, very safe people suddenly have a lot of close contact indoors over prolonged periods of time with family members who have been going to bars and not caring very much about COVID-19.”

You could even ask family members to be tested in advance, but that’s not a perfect strategy, Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. “What is to say that you aren’t exposed after a negative test?” he says. “It might give false reassurance.”

Overall, much of this boils down to how much of a risk people are willing to take, Adalja says. “The virus may be there. You have to think about each person’s risk tolerance.”

No matter what you do, it’s important to be mindful that things can get worse, Watkins says. “We are likely to see very high rates of COVID-19 over the winter,” he says. “The worst is yet to come.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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