How to have a safe holiday season during the pandemic

November 10, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

With the holidays fast approaching, many people are wondering if it is possible to safely celebrate during a pandemic. Should you visit relatives or have family and friends over for Thanksgiving? What about planning for Christmas, Hanukkah or the other winter holidays? And what will it look like if your work team typically holds a potluck or other gathering?

Experts agree that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may mean that your typical holiday celebration will look different this year.

“Expanding your circle of people during the COVID-19 pandemic increases your risk of exposure,” said Amanda Valyko, director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Michigan Medicine. She and other experts recommend against traveling, especially to communities that are seeing increases in cases of COVID-19.

For health care workers, data shows that 1 in 3 exposures occur outside of patient care, often with social and household interactions. That’s why taking precautions is critical — as you can play your part in keeping yourself, your colleagues, and your family and friends safe.

So what can you do to safely acknowledge the holidays, especially during such a tough year?

Coming together (at a distance)

Limit your gatherings to those in your immediate household, if possible.

“You can still have your favorite aunt make the pies and then divvy them up between households. Or one person could provide holiday to-go plates,” said Sheria Robinson-Lane, Ph.D., R.N.

If you do choose to get together, limit the size of your groups and ensure people wear masks and maintain a distance of at least six feet.

“Make sure there is plenty of space to maintain distance and keep some fresh air circulating by keeping a window open. If your mouth or nose are visible, you are potentially spreading more germs than if it were covered,” said Robinson-Lane. She and Valyko suggested gathering outdoors instead, weather permitting.

Students contemplating a trip home should be careful.

“If you have students who have not been strictly self-isolating in the two weeks before the holiday, I would highly suggest they keep a mask on indoors when around others and have their meal separate,” said Robinson-Lane.

Celebrating safely at work

If it’s an annual tradition to celebrate the holidays with your work teams, this year needs to look different. 

Large gatherings and potlucks are off-limits — celebrate by sharing individually wrapped food items and make sure distancing guidelines are strictly followed to avoid exposures while eating and socializing. As always, be sure that proper hand hygiene is practiced.

Creating connection 

Despite the distance in 2020, “You can create a sense of connection by listening to the same Pandora or other streaming music channel during the meal, having the same menu, having a family call or Zoom before or after the meal, or even having an outdoor, socially-distanced visit,” said Robinson-Lane.

Maintaining connection with others is important for mental health.

Amanda Leggett, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry suggested thinking about what are the traditions that are important to your family, friends and coworkers that you can hold onto in a virtual way. Some suggestions include:

  • Having an ugly sweater party over Zoom or some other friendly competition.
  • Taking time to write a letter to a friend or have a phone call with someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Helping a homeless shelter prepare a Thanksgiving meal or make care packages for essential workers who are working over the holidays.

“One benefit of virtual communication is you may be able to connect with friends and family from long distances that you wouldn’t usually get to see,” said Leggett. Thinking of others can take the focus off of activities you may be missing out on, she added.

Taking care during COVID-19

Being sick over a holiday is never fun — but it’s especially important to take precautions if you or a loved one has COVID-19. If someone in your circle is ill, it is important to protect your family while caring for that individual, said Robinson-Lane. “If you are sharing a living space, it is important to quarantine for the full 14 days. This can certainly interfere with holiday plans, but it may be helpful to take the perspective that you are giving the gift to your family of protecting their health.”

If the person who typically prepares the meals falls ill this year, they should pass those duties to someone else.

“You can engage them by getting their recipe for the dish they would usually prepare and making it the way they would make it and dropping off a holiday plate,” said Robinson-Lane. Or, suggested Leggett, have friends and family do a drive by to keep the person who is sick connected to the family.

If you’ve had and recovered from COVID-19, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are now immune and can get together.

“At this time there is not enough evidence to confirm that a COVID-19 infection confers long-term immunity,” said Valyko. “Even those with previous infections should continue to follow mask and distancing guidelines.”

Michigan Medicine Holiday Recipe Book

While the holidays will be different, they don’t have to taste different! Headlines wants to know which family recipes will be on your menu this holiday season.

It could be a delicious pie, mouth-watering appetizer or a new way to fry turkey. Or maybe it’s just a stuffing, dressing or green bean casserole recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Whatever it is, you can share it by clicking here — and it may be featured next week in the employee newsletter as Headlines debuts the first-ever Michigan Medicine Holiday Recipe Book! 

A version of this story first appeared on the Michigan Health Blog .