Covid-19 (Coronavirus): For information related to COVID-19, visit vcuhealth.org/covid-19. For information specific to children and families, visit Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

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COVID-19 and the holidays: How to celebrate safely

Dr. Gonzalo Bearman offers advice on how to lower your risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus.

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Updated November 20, 2020

It's the holidays! Can you hug your grandma?

As protective measures against COVID-19 continue, Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, an infectious disease expert with VCU Health, answers some common questions on how to celebrate the holidays safely during the pandemic.

Is it safe to hold holiday gatherings this year?

While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk from your holiday get-togethers, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus. The most important of these are the steps you’ve been taking all along:

  • Wear a face mask
  • Maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet
  • Wash your hands often

Remember — you may be on vacation, but the coronavirus isn’t. Don’t let your guard down. Keep following these same safety measures before, during and after the holidays. As the CDC says, the safest way to celebrate the holidays this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you want to go beyond that, at least take safety measures seriously. 

Is it safe to travel long distance?

For holiday travel within 1,500 miles and reachable by land, driving is your safest option. Traveling by train, plane or bus exposes you to far more people. Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet may be hard when dealing with seat assignments, security lines, boarding and exiting.

When traveling by train, plane or bus:

  • Wear your face mask at all times except when eating — and try not to snack. You need to keep your mask on as much as possible.
  • Avoid touching shared surfaces such as handrails, elevator buttons, doors and faucets.
  • Wipe down surfaces or use a sanitary wipe when handling common objects, such as your tray table.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer, and wash your hands often.

These rules apply to hotels, home-shares and rentals, as well as public restrooms and rest stops. Take a taxi rather than a ride-sharing service, wear your face mask and open your window to improve air flow. Try not to share a cab with people outside your “social bubble,” and wash your hands when you get to your destination.

What about hosting overnight guests or being an overnight guest?

Whether you are the host or the guest, to make this visit safe for everyone:

  • Self-quarantine beforehand. Stay at home for 14 days to avoid possible exposure to COVID-19. The person you pass in the parking lot, before you put on your mask, may not be coughing but could still have the coronavirus. Err on the side of caution.
  • Get a COVID test. If you test negative, continue to self-quarantine until it’s time to travel or attend your get-together. If you test positive, don’t attend the event, and don’t host visitors. See your doctor if you have symptoms.
  • Visit vulnerable people another time. Older adults, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems, such as transplant recipients, are at higher risk of catching the coronavirus, and their symptoms are often more severe. For their safety, visit them one-on-one or by Zoom, Facetime or other video chat. If you visit in person, wear a face mask, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet and wash your hands as soon as you arrive.
  • Get a flu shot. COVID-19 is on everyone’s mind, but it’s flu season, too. A flu shot will reduce your chance of getting the flu and feeling ill. If you get the flu, it will be harder for you to fight off the coronavirus. Don’t wait until the last minute for your flu shot. It takes a few weeks for the shot to protect you. Don’t take a chance. Do all you can do to be healthy during your holiday visit.

If you’re the host: 

Set some rules to ensure the comfort of both you and your guests. Include:

  • When to wear face masks
  • How to maintain physical distance
  • Are hugs, kisses and pats on the arm or back allowed?
  • Are you requiring a COVID-19 test?

Make sure your guests sign off on the rules before they arrive to avoid clashes later.

Other tips

Viruses spread easily indoors. Plan some outdoor activities. If weather permits, eat outdoors, visit parks or play non-contact sports, such as croquet or tennis. Be sure to wipe down mallets, racquets and other equipment before and after, and wash your hands often.

Stock your guest rooms and bathrooms with portable hand sanitizer.

If you’re the guest:

  • Before making your travel reservation, ask your host for the house rules or state your needs. If you and your host disagree, it’s probably best to visit by video chat or phone. Save your physical visit for after the pandemic.
  • Children age 2 and up can safely wear face masks. If your child is too young to wear a mask or can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, save your visit for another time.
  • Before bringing home-made treats, ask your host if it’s OK. Don’t bring home-made food without prior approval.
  • Bring lots of warm clothes. You may be spending more time outdoors.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer, and wash your hands often.

How can I make sure my event is safe?

  • Set some rules. Inform guests in advance of the safety practices you will require, such as face masks and social distancing. Decide how you will enforce the rules if you have to.
  • Think smaller groups. Rather than one big celebration with lots of people, hold more events with fewer people.
  • Eating in vs. eating out. Restaurants will seat groups 6 feet apart, but you’ll be seated only inches from Uncle Joe or Aunt Lisa. At home, you can seat people 6 feet apart, or guests can mingle at a distance. Buffet dining is safe, as long as diners stand 6 feet from each other at the buffet. Use disposable dinnerware to avoid bumping elbows as you wash dishes.
  • Schedule virtual facetime with those who can’t attend. Schedule a Zoom, Skype or other video chat so everyone can say hello to those at home because of increased risk, such as grandma and grandpa, great aunt Louise and anyone pregnant, sick or immunocompromised.

Remember – this pandemic will end at some point. Be safe. The precautions you take this year will help ensure a safe holiday the next.

Find the answers to other common COVID-19 questions here. To check for COVID-19 symptoms, visit our symptom tracker.