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What You Need To Know About Celebrating The Holidays In The Pandemic

Whole Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey with All the Sides
"We're making sacrifices this year so we can be together next year."
Dr. Rosanna Rosa, infectious disease physician

There is a wide variety and quality of information regarding best practices for celebrating winter holidays during the pandemic. Here are some guidelines to help you figure out the best plan for you and your family this year.

This resource guide relies heavily on information from the CDC's Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings web post. Please continue to check the CDC website to keep up with the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic.

Who should I be celebrating with?

"We highly recommend enjoying Thanksgiving with people who live in your household. We see that the most transmission happens when we have mixing of households."
Andrea Janota, public health expert

Unfortunately, big holiday celebrations will be very dangerous this year since they easily allow the virus to spread - if just one person is infected. Celebrating winter holidays with the people living in your household is the lowest risk way to celebrate according to the CDC and many health experts. The CDC defines your household as "anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit (such as your house or apartment)." This could include family members, friends or roommates. Family members who primarily live somewhere else, such as college students, are not considered part of your household and precautions should be taken if you plan to see them for the holidays.

If you are expecting people from outside of your household to visit, ask them to quarantine before their trip in addition to getting tested. While testing can be very accurate, there are a number of factors that could decrease the accuracy of a test, including getting infected after the test has been administered. The incubation period of the virus, or how long it takes to display symptoms after infection, can also affect the result. It ranges from about five to fourteen days. With this information, epidemiologist Rebecca Smith says "if you were to be exposed any time, starting now, you could be infectious at the time that you go home for Thanksgiving."

If celebrating inside, the CDC also recommends increasing ventilation in the room. This could mean opening windows or "setting central air and heating on continuous circulation." Although Iowa winters can be chilly, the safest way to celebrate with people outside of your household is to celebrate outside, where it is easiest for air to circulate. If you have access to a fire pit, picnic tables, or outdoor heaters, these could all make your outdoor celebration more comfortable.

While the CDC does not have a recommended number of people that can be in attendance at private gatherings, it does recommend having enough room so that guests from separate households are able to maintain six feet of distance at all times. Gov. Kim Reynolds recently tightened guidelines restricting indoor gatherings to 15 people and outdoor gatherings to 30. Masks are also recommended for gatherings when guests are not eating or drinking.

Should I be traveling?

"No plan is foolproof. Whenever you're traveling, you're still putting yourself and your loved ones in a moderate to high risk situation."
Dr. Rossanna Rosa, infectious disease physician

We know that public transportation is incredibly risky, whether it's bussing, flying, calling an Uber, or even stopping at a gas station. Unfortunately, it is safer not to travel this year, but if you must, there are a few things to keep in mind.

In her conversation with Charity Nebbe on Talk of Iowa, Dr. Rossanna Rosa says that driving is most likely the safest way to travel because you can control most aspects of your trip. Make sure to pack hand sanitizer and have a mask handy if you must stop at a rest stop.

If flying, it's important to read up on the social distancing guidelines your airline adheres to. Tonya Mosley talks to Seth Kaplan about flying for the holidays on Here and Now. Kaplan explains that some airlines are keeping middle seats open to increase distance between passengers, but others are not. Listen here.

Should we be masking?

"The only time they should be removing their mask should be when they are eating and eating in a separate room, I think, is the safest decision, or eating outdoors."
Guzman-Cottrill, epidemiologist

College students returning home for the holidays are encouraged to not only get tested, but to wear a mask upon returning home. In her interview with NPR, epidemiologist Guzman-Cottrill acknowledged that masking up for the entirety of the time college students return home might be frustrating, but "with the virus surging across the country, the extra precautions are worth taking."

Testing is an effective tool to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but it's most effective when used in addition to social distancing and masking. IPR's Ben Kieffer talked about his COVID-19 testing experience on River to River. Listen to the episode here.

Gov. Kim Reynolds passed new guidelines restricting private indoor gatherings to 15 people and outdoor gatherings to 30. While there is no overarching mask mandate in the state of Iowa, the governor says she recommends face coverings especially when it is not possible to socially distance.

What's the best way to serve food?

"The last thing we want is big family gatherings that end up being somebody's last Thanksgiving."
Rebecca Smith, epidemiologist

Masks should be worn throughout your celebration when you are celebrating with people outside of your household. They should especially be worn when preparing food. The CDC recommends having one person serve food and for everyone to wash their hands frequently. Even when eating, at least six feet of distance between people is still recommended.

When preparing for your holiday meal, Andrea Janota recommends picking up groceries curbside instead of shopping for them inside the store.

You and your family could also try shifting the celebration from being food centered to an outdoor activity where distancing is easier. Epidemiologist Rebecca Smith recommends playing an outdoor game with family, such as croquet, bocce, or cornhole.

How do I tell my family I don't want to celebrate in person?

"We have to be mindful that we're not framing messages as any kind of character attack or judgement on what people have been doing to this point or what they're comfortable with doing."
Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart, assistant professor of communication studies

Making such drastic changes to traditions will be difficult for some family members, and this could lead to an uncomfortable conversation about boundaries. If you must have a hard conversation with your family about how you will be celebrating this year, assistant professor of communication studies Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart recommends deciding on your "non-negotiables." She says these are most effective when they are specific, concrete, and have outlined consequences if they are not met. To make sure everyone is on the same page with what will be expected, it's best to have these conversations early. If all parties cannot reach an agreement on in-person conditions, it might be best to celebrate virtually this year. Mikucki-Enyart made these comments on Talk of Iowa.

Celebrating virtually will most likely be the best option for folks who are at high-risk or if social distancing guidelines cannot be followed. In the same interview with Charity Nebbe on Talk of Iowa Dr. Rossanna Rosa says "this year is not about individual food preferences, but about individual disease risk factors that could land you very sick or even dead." And many experts agree.

Zoom has recently announced they will be taking away the 40 minute limit on free accounts for Thanksgiving day to make virtual celebrations easier.

What are your plans?
Let us know how you plan on celebrating the holidays by texting HOLIDAYS to 515-599-7477.