As the holidays approach, we need to think about how much COVID-19 risk we are willing to take to see our family and friends. According to the Vermont Department of Health, the recent spike in cases is attributable to both travel and to small gatherings. For this reason, the big, normal holiday celebrations are off the table. Here are some ways to celebrate safely, listed from least to most risky.
We know that visiting virtually, using video conferencing software, is not very festive. But, especially if there are vulnerable people on either side of the equation, it is a lot better than no visit.
While dinner has traditionally been a part of most holiday celebrations, it doesn't have to be. Pop by for a quick, masked outdoor visit or plan an after-dinner walk with those you usually celebrate the holidays with.
What if you were to do a hybrid outdoor-and-virtual visit? You could drop off a safely prepared meal (meaning that you wash and sanitize your hands frequently throughout the preparation) and then connect online! You would still be sharing the same food at the same time. This is the sort of creativity we need to make this holiday both safe and satisfying.
Just the Trusted Network
Invite your bubble, the people in your household plus the one or two people with whom you associate regularly. More than ever, you should know what they are doing to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19 and feel that they are being as careful as you are.
The Extended Bubble
This is where it starts getting pretty difficult to maintain safety. You invite or accept an invite from those outside your immediate trusted network. Like your bubble, you should know a fair amount about how the members of the group are working to stop the spread and be satisfied that they are being as careful as you are. And the group should be small, 10 or less.
Have everyone wash or sanitize their hands upon arrival. Wear masks while not eating. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or mask without washing or sanitizing your hands before and after. Space yourselves out. Try turning the kids’ table into a table for those who live together. Can one family group eat in the dining room, while the other eats in the kitchen? Advise your guests to layer on a sweater, so you can open a few windows.
The CDC recommends that guests bring their own food and drink and that you use disposable plates and utensils. If you do share food, one person should serve. If any of these steps seem too weird, choose one of the options above.
Inviting travelers or traveling elsewhere is the riskiest thing you can do. Vermont's Public health experts attribute most cases in Vermont to travel. They recommend traveling for essential reasons only. Sadly, visiting is not an essential reason.
To travel or host travelers safely requires a lot of work. Travelers must quarantine for 14 days or for 7 days, plus the time it takes to get a negative test result. If they travel in a private vehicle and make no stops, they can quarantine before they arrive. Those using public transit must quarantine after arrival.
A risky Thanksgiving could mean a tragic Christmas. I urge you to think very carefully about what you are willing to lose before hosting or attending a holiday gathering.
Trey Dobson, MD, is the chief medical officer of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.