Making holiday plans? Read this first

How to navigate the holidays in a pandemic

You’ve read the title. And by now, you know the drill: we don’t tend to offer rules dictating what you absolutely should or should not do, or advice that gets at the nitty-gritty details of any one specific scenario. Instead, we think it’s more productive to offer frameworks to help you think through pandemic-related conundrums and come up with solutions that best meet your needs.

With that said, how does one celebrate the holiday season in light of the coronavirus?

Let’s start by briefly delineating the risk factors, many of which will be obvious to you. Family members traveling long distances can potentially come in contact with the virus during their journeys. Elderly family members are at greater risk for developing severe symptoms of Covid should they become infected. Large groups of people congregating indoors for long periods of time, likely not wearing masks (because let’s be real, how are you supposed to stuff your face with eggnog and hors d'oeuvres with a mask on?), presents prime spreading ground for the virus. And of course, hugging loved ones is impossible from six feet away.

So needless to say, a responsible and safe holiday season might look different this year. Fortunately, there’s no reason to cancel the festivities altogether. This issue will highlight some of the CDC’s recommendations for celebrating responsibly and walk through which activities are more/less risky. Note: we’re going to assume you’re familiar with the basic guidelines (handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding crowds, etc.). Our goal for this issue is to give you holiday-gathering-specific tips.

General risk factors

Broadly, the risk factors associated with holiday gatherings can be grouped into these categories defined by the CDC.

  1. Community levels of Covid: neighborhoods/districts already experiencing high rates of infection are, naturally, higher risk places to attend/host gatherings

  2. Indoor vs. outdoor gatherings: you’ve heard it before—outdoor gatherings are safest but if you’re hosting indoors, good ventilation (open windows, larger rooms) is key

  3. Duration of gathering: generally speaking, the shorter the gathering, the safer

  4. Number of people at gathering: also not surprising—smaller gatherings are safer

  5. Location attendees are traveling from: a gathering wherein lots of attendees traveling long distances from different areas is less safe than one in which everyone’s local

  6. Behavior of attendees prior to the gathering: events where all attendees have been adhering to social distancing and face covering guidelines prior to attendence are lower risk

  7. Behavior of attendees during the gathering: adhering to common sense safety measures during the event decreases the chances of spread

Importantly, if you are someone in your household is experiencing symptoms of Covid or tests positive for the virus, the CDC recommends not attending gatherings. Special caution should also be taken if you’re in a high-risk group (e.g. elderly, immunocompromised, etc.).

Before the event


  • avoid self-serve or buffet style set-ups

  • encourage guests to bring and eat their own food (note: not potluck style)

  • consider having one person serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils

  • use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils, and condiments

  • plan to limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled (e.g. in the kitchen or around the grill)

  • have extra masks and hand sanitizer on hand for your guests

  • if you have a large, geographically distant family or circle of friends: consider having each household organize its own celebration (potentially with other nearby households) and join each other virtually

  • consider preparing food (being sure to adhere to safety precautions) and provide contactless delivery to family, friends, or neighbors in high-risk groups who may not be able to join the festivities


  • consider getting Covid tested prior to departure

  • consider staying in a nearby Airbnb or equivalent upon arrival and getting Covid tested again

  • follow all common precautions while traveling (masks, hand sanitizer, etc)

During the event

  • avoid communal bathrooms during high-use times (e.g. before or after a meal)

  • avoid excessive alcohol consumption, as this may decrease your ability to adhere to safety guidelines

  • wear a mask and social distance—believe us, we know it may seem odd to do this in a loved one’s home, but casual gatherings with people from multiple households can still spread the virus

  • 5ks, Black Friday, parades—crowds in general—should be avoided

After the event

  • monitor your health and in the days after the event, check to see if you develop any Covid symptoms

  • get tested again to check your status

Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions, and concerns — you can get a hold of us via email, TwitterInstagram, and the site itself.