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Home for the Holidays? Celebrate Safely

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Mark is thinking outside the box – that is, the 12-by-19 dining room where his family always gathers for Thanksgiving.

On a crisp fall day, he placed two small propane-powered outdoor heaters that he bought at a hardware store inside a tent and tested how it felt. His holiday plan is to set up a table on the patio, leave one or two of the tent’s four walls open and serve the feast in the fresh air.

“It feels pretty comfortable in there – I think this could work,” he said. “We’ll need some good luck weather-wise and everyone will need to be a good sport about the setup, but I won’t worry about my family’s safety.”

Mark is creatively trying to tackle one of the greatest risks families will face during the holidays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a series of recommendations for Americans hosting or attending family gatherings and toward the top of the list is the danger of sitting in close quarters in a poorly ventilated room, talking, laughing and eating together.

As The New York Times observed, “Most office buildings, hospitals and restaurants have mechanical ventilation systems that pull outside air inside, push stale air outside and recirculate indoor air through filters. But homes typically don’t have those kinds of ventilation systems, and indoor air changes far more slowly as it leaks through small cracks or gaps around windows and doors. Many homes, in fact, are sealed up tight to make them more energy efficient.”

The CDC stresses that the safest way people can approach the holidays is to avoid gatherings altogether and simply celebrate with the people you live with. It’s advice that the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, will follow. In an interview with CBS News, Fauci said his children, who live in three different states, will not be coming over this year. “They themselves, because of their concern for me and my age, have decided they’re not going to come home for Thanksgiving — even though all three of them want very much to come home for Thanksgiving,” Fauci said.

Even with COVID-19 cases surging, millions of Americans, fatigued from eight months of social distancing and yearning for family time, will make the trip home. Ultimately, the decision comes down to how much risk each family is willing to take on. The following are some simple steps that experts say we can take to cut it down.

Air it Out

This is crucial for slowing a disease that’s primarily transmitted by air. If hosting outside is an option, do it. If the party must be held inside, take advantage of every available option to make sure the area is well ventilated. Choose a room that has windows and/or doors and open them widely. If it’s cold out, crank up the heat – the modest spike in the monthly gas bill is well worth it.

Keep it Short and Sweet

The longer the party and the larger the guest list, the greater the odds of transmission. Come up with a schedule for your gathering in advance and stick closely to it. That may mean eating right away when the guests arrive and moving on right after to dessert. Your home may be the focal point for big family gatherings in normal times, but these are not normal times. People will understand if you decide to keep the get-together to a few immediate family members this time around. If you’ve invited elderly family members or others who are considered at-risk, you have an obligation to protect them.

Know Your Guests

When you’re putting together the guest list, consider the specific circumstances of each potential invitee. Do they live somewhere that’s considered a COVID-19 hot spot or have they recently traveled to one? Are they taking the pandemic seriously and taking the proper precautions in their daily lives? As Dr. Brenda L. Tesini, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told USA Today, it’s not the time to “get together with a relative who has been quite vocal about not wearing a mask and not social distancing.” You can mitigate the risk if everyone agrees to quarantine for two weeks before the holiday. Anyone who is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms must absolutely stay home.

Food Safety

It will feel foreign, but Thanksgiving rituals like passing around the gravy need to go this year. Come up with a plan for your meal that does not involve a buffet setup, with multiple people touching the same dishes and utensils or breathing on the food. Also, the old adage about “too many cooks in the kitchen” meaning trouble has never been more true. It would be safer if one or two people could handle the cooking duties and make the plates for everyone. If guests can bring their own food this year, all the better.

Be a Smarty at the Party

Approach your gathering with the same mentality that you would when going into the office. Employ all of the provien social distancing tactics that have kept us safe in public places. If you’re indoors, wear a mask when you’re not eating or drinking. Stay at least six feet apart no matter where you are.

STOPit Solutions is doing its part to help communities protect themselves from the virus with its new SafeScreen COVID-19 Health Reporting System. Each day, SafeScreen sends students or workers an email or text requesting that they answer a series of questions guided by the CDC and National Institutes of Health through the system’s Health Screener. Once completed, the user instantly is informed if they are “clear to enter” or “do not enter.” If they are clear, they receive a color-coded “entry pass” to display as they enter school or work. If they receive a “do not enter” pass, then the system administrator is notified and reaches out, via our 2-way chat feature or phone, to assess the situation and provide next steps. The entire screening process takes less than a minute to complete each day.

We sincerely hope that by next Thanksgiving, none of the measures we discussed above will be necessary any longer and the threat of COVID-19 will be a memory. But until then, it’s up to all of us to do what we can to ensure that we and our loved ones will make it there to celebrate together. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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