Avoiding a Holiday COVID-19 “Super Spreader” Event

COVID-19 is spreading at record rates across the country which is why responsible holiday hosts and guests are taking appropriate precautions to change the way they celebrate this year to avoid letting the virus into their homes.

It is not just the large crowds that cause concern among health professionals. Even small gatherings with family and friends who you do not live with can contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC says that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is at home with the people you live with. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year. 

If you do plan on getting together with those with whom you don't live with, emergency physicians offer these tips:

Remember anyone can get or spread COVID-19. Close friends and family with whom you don’t live with can still contract and spread the virus to you the same way a stranger could.

Trim the guest list. Rather than a specified “safe” number of guests, public health experts suggest that hosts determine the size of a gathering by how many guests from different households can remain at least six feet apart. Note that a “household” is made of people who live in the same house every day. Family members who are close but don’t live at home, such as college students visiting for the holiday, are considered a separate household in public health terms.     

Cover your face and maintain your distance. It may be difficult but try to avoid hugs and handshakes. People should also cover their face when they are not eating or drinking.

Stay outside and stay safer. If it is possible, hosting a small event outside instead of inside is preferable.

Encourage good hygiene. Hosts should make sure that bathrooms have plenty of soap so guests can frequently wash their hands and single-use towels.

Consider the risks in the community. To keep people as safe as possible, consider the risks of COVID-19 in the community where the host lives and wherever guests may be coming from. Exposure during travel is a concern for anyone relying on a bus, train, plane, or other public transportation.

Stay home if in doubt. Anyone with a weakened immune system or certain medical conditions and elderly individuals are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Before socializing in-person, anyone who recently tested positive should meet all of the CDC criteria for when it is safe to be around other people.

Disrupting holiday plans is never ideal. However, the choices made during this tough time could be life or death decisions. Everyone has unique circumstances, and it may be best to contact a health professional to discuss the options that will most effectively avoid putting friends or family at risk.

Remember, emergency physicians work 24/7, even on holidays. Do not ignore your symptoms if you think you are having a medical emergency—if something is wrong call 911 or visit your closest emergency department.

Emergency departments across the country are taking extensive precautions to adapt and protect patients. If holiday plans go awry, emergency departments are safe and ready for anything or anyone that comes their way.  

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