Holidays are a time to gather with our loved ones, celebrate and honor important traditions. As with nearly everything else in our daily lives, the COVID-19 pandemic challenges how we can do that and has many of us grappling with how to celebrate and stay safe over the holidays. We are seeing a continued and significant surge in new cases across Montana and Wyoming, and much of that is because of small cross-household gatherings. This unfortunately means that more people are being hospitalized as a result and it is absolutely we do everything we can to protect our loved ones.
While things may look a little different when it comes to the holidays this year, the good news is that you can still find ways to celebrate with people you care about. The key: think different. Strive to find ways to connect with the people who matter in new and meaningful ways. We've put this guide together to help.
The first, and preferred, recommendation is also the safest. Billings Clinic strongly recommends that you stay home and gather in person only with members of your immediate household. This presents the least exposure risk because it eliminates travel and limits your contact only to people with whom you live, protecting you and your loved ones - especially those who might be at increased risk of severe illness. Mixing households significantly increases exposure risk and is currently one of the primary sources of new cases. It's important to remember that this doesn't mean you can't still share holiday experiences with the people you care about. Here are some ideas to share experiences safely:
- Consider a virtual celebration. Use technology to connect people no matter where they are. Set a time for everybody to log in and treat it like everybody is together - ugly sweaters and all.
- Share traditional or special goodies. Everybody has those cookies, grandma's chocolate butterscotch brownies, or that special item that makes its way to every celebration. Share the recipe or send prepackaged items so everybody still gets to have some.
- Cook together. Plan a meal with your loved ones that each household can cook - or have one person drop off all of the ingredients and preprepared items and connect via phone or video while everybody cooks.
- Eat together, apart. The same applies to mealtime. Virtual connections are easier than ever, and many families and households can easily connect over a screen to enjoy a meal together.
- Play games. There are plenty of online options that allow many players, and others like charades are perfect for virtual gatherings.
For many people, getting together with family and friends is the most important part of the holidays. If you choose to do this, there are still ways that you can protect yourselves and others while still enjoying the holiday.
If you host:
- Set the rules right away and stick to them. When you invite people over, make it clear what the rules are. This should include masking for everybody in attendance, physical distancing, hand hygiene and any other guidelines you put in place.
- Limit gatherings to no more than 6-10 people.
- Think about who might be in attendance. High risk individuals with chronic conditions or who are immunocompromised should not travel to, host, or attend such events.
- Have hand sanitizer available in high traffic areas.
- When the forks go down, the masks go on. Ask everybody to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose at all times unless they are eating.
- During meals, cohort households. Set up dining tables at least six feet apart for each household in attendance.
- Serve meals that are already plated and avoid buffet-style dining.
- Ventilate. Keep windows open to allow for better air circulation if and when possible.
- Consider holding your gathering outside, weather permitting. Studies indicate exposure risk is decreased outside. This could include a firepit and s’mores, or an earlier gathering to take advantage of the warmest part of the day.
If you are visiting or traveling:
- If considering out of town travel, think about where you’re coming from and where you’re headed. Are either considered hotspots for COVID-19 activity? If so, travel should be reconsidered.
- If you do travel from out of town, stay at a hotel instead of the host’s home.
- During travel, limit contact with others and avoid trips to public spaces whenever possible. Always wear your mask, practice physical distancing, sanitize your hands frequently and avoid crowds.
- Practice the safety recommendations mentioned in this guide and suggest them to your hosts. Help them plan and implement a safe event to limit exposure for everybody.
Remember, we are in the midst of a sustained surge of new COVID-19 cases not only in our region, but across the country. We have seen large spikes in cases following past holidays and, given that new case and hospitalization numbers are the highest they’ve ever been, we must take every step possible to slow the spread of this illness. Holidays might be a little different this year but that won’t last forever, and these steps can help all of us not only stay healthy and protect the people we care about, but also slow the spread of COVID-19
From the Billings Clinic family to yours, have a very happy and very safe holiday season.