This time of year is typically filled with holiday parties, family get togethers and lots of time spent with loved ones. However, COVID-19 makes many of these activities high risk for spreading the virus. Just like with everything else this year, holiday plans need to be adjusted to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. Though new vaccines have many of us feeling hopeful, now is not the time to let our guard down.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and other Michigan state officials are strongly urging Michiganders to refrain from gathering with loved ones outside of their household for the upcoming winter holidays. The latest epidemic order limits indoor gatherings to 10 people or less, and of no more than two households. COVID-19 cases and COVID-19 test positivity rates are still high, and taking action now to slow the spread will allow us to save thousands of lives, avoid a state lockdown and help small businesses keep their doors open in 2021.
Alternative gathering ideas
The safest option is to enjoy holiday festivities without gathering in person. Celebrating separately doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy quality time with and show kindness to loved ones. Consider these non-traditional gathering ideas.
- Tailgate-style celebration: Find a parking lot or other open area with room for everyone’s car to park at least six feet apart and meet up to share a meal from the safety of your own trunk. Each family can pack their own food and drinks and bundle up to share a meal and converse with loved ones from the back of their own car.
- Special delivery: Have nearby family members or friends each prepare a dish for your holiday feast. Then, in the days leading up to the holiday you’re celebrating, each person can complete a contactless delivery. You’ll share a portion of your dish with your loved ones, and receive theirs in return, cultivating a homemade holiday feast made with love, even though made separately. Jump on a video call while you enjoy the food.
- Pre-holiday present drop off: While dropping off food to loved ones, deliver gifts as well! Hop on a group video call to open presents and show gratitude.
- Recipe swap: Family members far away? Swap recipes via email or text and recreate your family members’ famous dishes in your own kitchen. Safely enjoy the familiar tastes and take pride in your new recipe. Video chat with family members while you eat and share your cooking triumphs (and fails!) from preparing the meal.
- After dinner activities: You don’t limit your normal holiday celebration to just a meal, so keep the virtual merriment going with some activities after dinner. Model it after your typical holiday– do you retire to the couch to watch movies after eating? Plan a video call with the other movie buffs in your life and sit beside each other (virtually) while you chat and enjoy the film. Does your family usually play games after the big meal? Use an online service to keep the tradition going; you can find everything from trivia or charades to a murder mystery game online. You could even try something new such as learning to make a new holiday cocktail or dessert together. Check out these other 15 ideas for how to make your virtual celebration a fun one.
Guidelines for gatherings
It is strongly advised by top health and government officials to celebrate the winter holidays with only members of your household. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that small gatherings of family and friends from different households have contributed significantly to the spread of COVID-19. The safest option to celebrate the holidays is to host festivities with only those who live in the same household as you, whether that be roommates or family.
Gathering with people outside of your household – meaning those who do not live with you, even if they are related to you, such as college students returning home for the holidays – can pose varying levels of risk, according to the CDC. You can find their full report for holiday gathering guidelines here.
If you decide to host a holiday gathering – even a small one – with people from different households, it is essential to take as many precautions as possible. Consider the following if you are gathering with others this holiday season.
Considerations prior to gathering
- Be aware of laws, rules and regulations in effect in your area or the area you are traveling to before making plans. The newest epidemic order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) limits indoor gatherings to 10 people or less, and of no more than two households. This should be kept top of mind when organizing any holiday festivities. The State of Michigan provides a helpful guide for planning your holiday celebration here.
- Pay attention to community levels of COVID-19 in your area and the area you may be traveling to. High levels of spread in the gathering location or in your place of residence poses a higher risk of infection when gathering.
- Speak with the group you are gathering with about self-isolating for two weeks prior to getting together to limit exposure and possible spread at your holiday celebration.
- Consider getting a COVID-19 test done before you are planning to celebrate with others, especially if you work outside the home or live with someone who works outside the home.
- Communicate about what precautions will be taken during the event. How many people will be there? Where will the gathering be held? What are expectations for wearing masks, greeting others, food, etc.?
- If you are feeling unwell, have symptoms of COVID-19, have been exposed to someone with symptoms in the last 14 days, have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days, or have tested positive for COVID-19 and have not completed your 10 day self-quarantine, DO NOT attend a holiday gathering. Stay home and join the celebration virtually to keep others safe.
Considerations for traveling
- Travel in your own vehicle if possible, as this is the best way to limit your exposure.
- When stopping at gas stations, wear a mask and gloves while you fill up. Take the gloves off as soon as you’re back in your car and sanitize your hands after using a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol.
- If you have to use public transportation such as a bus, plane, or train—be sure to wear a mask at all times, stay six feet away from others as much as possible, and sanitize your hands regularly.
Considerations while gathering
- Keep gatherings as small as possible. Celebrate only with members of your household and/or with people who live nearby to limit spreading to other communities. Remember that no more than two households should gather based on the new epidemic order from MDHHS.
- Though Michigan weather is often cold in December, consider hosting the event outside if possible or in a well-ventilated indoor space. Open windows or place heating and central air on continuous circulation to increase ventilation.
- Wear masks when not eating or drinking. This may seem silly when meeting with your family, but small gatherings contribute significantly to the spread of the virus and masks are one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Avoid hugs, handshakes, elbow bumps, etc. when greeting one another. Stick to waving and verbal greetings.
- Avoid playing music loudly or other loud noises that may cause someone to shout to be heard.
- Wash and sanitize hands frequently, especially after touching common surfaces and before and after eating.
Considerations for sharing food and drinks during holiday gatherings
- Alcohol can impair judgment, so be extra mindful of social distancing and other precautions if you decide to drink.
- Consider having everyone bring their own food and drinks or have one person (or household) in charge of preparing the meal.
- Make use of single use dishware, silverware, and serve ware.
- Have one person in charge of serving all the food to limit the amount of people touching serving utensils.
- Limit the number of people in the cooking or grilling area.
- Keep masks on while preparing and serving food.
- Make sure everyone thoroughly washes their hands before and after eating and touching serving equipment.
- Use a no-touch trash can to dispose of all materials after eating.
A socially distanced or virtual celebration is the safest option — this holiday season may look different, but there are still many ways to safely spend time with loved ones and celebrate.