An Epidemiologist’s Top Three Tips For Safe Holiday Gatherings

Dr. Sandro Galea said Turkey Day isn’t canceled, but you should take some precautions

This year’s holiday season is already shaping up to be unlike anything in years past. Amid a surge in coronavirus cases throughout the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued robust guidelines for Thanksgiving, which emphasize the safest option for the holiday is only celebrating with people in your household.

If you decide to celebrate with others outside your quarantine bubble, the agency recommends taking extra precautions such as maintaining your distance by at least at 6 feet.

Dr. Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, weighed in on the three most important safety precautions you can take if you plan on hosting or attending a holiday gathering. While he said recent vaccine news was “very promising,” he emphasized we still have to be mindful of the risk of not only catching the virus but also being part of its potential spread. 

#1 Have an outdoor Thanksgiving.  

While small home gatherings can feel safer, these private get-togethers are believed to be fueling the spread of Covid-19. Homes have become the main source of coronavirus transmission, accounting for up to 70% of cases in some areas.

Dr. Galea said weather permitting, move your celebrations outdoors. “We know that being outdoors is much safer than being indoors for any gathering,” he told Wake-Up Call. “So I think in so far as the weather allows, being outdoors is always a plus.” 

If rain or inclement weather should get in the way. Dr. Galea recommends opening windows throughout your home to keep it well ventilated. 

#2 Keep gatherings small. 

Your guest list this year may need to be shorter than you’d like, but Dr. Galea believes it’s for the best. 

Though the rules around how many people can gather vary depending on the jurisdiction, he advises keeping your gatherings small and limiting the number of households attending. 

The CDC outlined some additional steps you can take, such as limiting the number of people in food preparation areas and providing single-use plastic utensils. 

#3 Wear a mask (and keep it on). 

Wearing a face mask doesn’t just protect others — it also protects you, according to updated CDC guidance, which cites growing evidence. Galea recommends that guests keep their masks on at all times, except for maybe when they’re eating. 

“We know that keeping masks on at all times, except when people are eating is a way of reducing transmission,” he said, noting that guests should be encouraged to keep their masks on.  

And as an added precaution, seriously consider getting a Covid-19 test.

Dr. Galea said getting tested is a must if you are traveling or planning to be around loved ones who are considered high risk for developing a serious condition from the virus. This includes ensuring you plan enough time to get the test and wait for the results, which in some areas can take anywhere from a few hours to several days.

“People should consider being tested before they go to meet with family members and after they come back from visiting family members, particularly people who are going places,” he said.

This story was written and reported by Tess Bonn.