Because of COVID-19, our holidays are going to look a little different this year. We spoke with Fairbanks School of Public Health epidemiologists Shandy Dearth, MPH, Thomas Duszynski, MPH, and Andrea Janota, MPH, to understand how we can ensure a safe holiday for ourselves and our family and friends.
Can I visit family this year?
With increased cases across the country, it is best to stay within your own household this holiday season. We encourage you to think about who you may be visiting and any increased risks family members may have due to their age or chronic conditions such as diabetes. You may decide it is better to forego spending time with family this holiday season so that you can have more celebrations with them in the future.
If you are going to travel to visit family and friends, make sure you have a plan in place prior to leaving and share that plan with everyone you want to visit. However, we do not recommend traveling this year and it could be helpful for you to normalize this among your family and friends.
Use the 2020 holiday season as a unique opportunity for something new and different! If you live with roommates, stay home and have a Friendsgiving. Young people in particular may feel some anxiety about being away from family at the holidays for the first time or uneasy about not knowing how to prepare a full turkey dinner. Try your hand at cooking your favorite sides or choose something totally untraditional! Either way your quarantine Thanksgiving will be especially memorable.
If I decide to visit family, what can I do to ensure their safety?
Try to meet with them outdoors. Obviously, this is easier to do if you are traveling somewhere with warmer weather, but we encourage you to see if that is an option first. Maybe it is a chance to have that relative who never does the cooking (but lives south) take the lead this year.
Make a commitment as a family to do your best to quarantine for the 14 days leading up to your visit. This will help you to reduce the chance of arriving on your grandparents’ porch with more than just your famous green bean casserole. Take hand sanitizer with you. It can be a nice gift for the host. Also, get your flu shot now, so your immunity is intact before the holidays. You don’t want to take them influenza either – that isn’t a great present. It is essential to maintain physical distancing while eating, since you won’t be wearing a mask.
Keep in mind that others in your community, particularly elderly neighbors, may not be able to see their families this year. Consider preparing a dish for them and delivering it in a way that limits person-to-person contact.
What is the safest way to travel for the holidays?
Drive if possible. Plan your route so that if it is a long drive, you have snacks or options for a healthy drive thru meal. We know many cases have reported being inside restaurants and bars, and you don’t want to pick up something on your trip to take to your relatives’ home. Although airlines are now requiring masks, you are still around a lot of people (and potential sources of infection) in airports while waiting for your flight. Some recent studies show there is little transmission on actual flights as long as everyone wears as mask, but you are still around fewer people in your car.
Is it safe to visit family who live out of state?
Some states definitely have higher rates than others, but the most important thing to keep in mind is how separated you can keep yourself from others while you travel to see family and if you can spend time with your family outdoors. Maybe opt for a hike or visit a pumpkin patch or tree farm. Crowded activities like Black Friday shopping pose a higher risk for transmission. If you are out and the store is particularly busy, leave and come back later. Better yet, take your shopping online instead. Whatever you do, wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene.
What is your advice if family see the risks differently than me?
Set a good example by wearing your mask when you are indoors with others and emphasize the need to protect the elderly and compromised loved ones at your gathering. You don’t have to focus on the virus, you can talk about the risk factors and how important it is to keep everyone safe so that we can have a closer visit next year.
If I decide to not visit family, how can I still connect with family and friends?
Send your family member a care package of cookies or some other special treat made with a family recipe. Set up a designated time to Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime with your family from afar so they can join you at the dinner table while everyone else is around. Or if you insist on hosting and having people over, stagger the times when people arrive and share a meal. Maybe grandma and grandpa can arrive and eat first with a small group of family and then leave before the next group of family arrives.
We know it isn’t quite the same as celebrating with everyone, but this holiday season requires some creativity and flexibility, just like the rest of 2020. And know that these changes won’t have to be forever. One day we can all gather around the family dinner table and argue with each other about who the favorite grandkid is as usual.
Make a plan, wear a mask, practice physical distancing, and remember to wash your hands frequently.
If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms, please stay home and contact your provider.