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Avoid virus spread at holiday celebrations

As fall and winter holidays approach, there are many considerations to make to protect ourselves from COVID-19. These considerations are simply that, though — they do not replace state or local safety laws for holiday gatherings. Be sure to check current COVID-19 levels in your community when planning to postpone, cancel or limit the social gatherings.

There is low risk for spread when celebrating virtually or with members of your own household. However, in-person gatherings will pose varying levels of risk.

Consider virus spread based on the size of the event size and the use of mitigation strategies. Several factors contribute to spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Combined, these factors pose varying levels of risk, so it is important to consider them individually and together.

  • Wearing a mask — New research shows face coverings reduce the risk of infection to the wearer by 65 percent.
  • Size of the gathering — The larger gatherings grow, so, too, does the risk of spreading infection.
  • Social behaviors — Guests who are not practicing safe social behaviors, such as mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing pose more risk at gathering than those who are taking preventative measures.
  • Staying safe around food or drinks — In addition to observing social preventative measures, guests can be encouraged to bring food and drinks for themselves instead of sharing food with others.

Who should not attend in-person celebrations?

As a general rule, if you feel symptoms of any sickness, it's probably best to avoid social gatherings. The number of symptoms associated with COVID-19 have grown to include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, headache, sore throat, fatigue, body aches, new loss of taste or smell, congestion, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea.

What to consider for fall and winter holidays

There are several holidays that happen between the fall and winter months. Holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Halloween, Día de los Muertos, Navratri, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year's are typically celebrated in large gatherings with families and friends, at crowded parties and outdoor gatherings. These events can put people at increased risk for COVID-19, and can be considered national super-spreader events.

Keep gatherings small

This holiday season, keeping your group small allows for easy social distancing and makes it easier to remember to distance. If you must gather, keep it outside. Small outdoor meals and gatherings have decent air flow to help dilute the virus when there is plenty of room for 6 feet or more physical distancing.

Travel advice this holiday season

The holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the year. One of the big problems this year is the uncertainty of how careful others are with preventative measures like masking and distancing.

"I would really worry about flying," said Natascha Tuznik, assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases and part of the UC Davis Health Travelers Clinic. "The planes can be risky, depending on the protocols of each airline and whether passengers resist wearing masks. But I'm most frightened by airports themselves."

If you are going to travel, make sure your whole group agrees ahead of time with the same precautions.

Staying safe this Halloween

Halloween can still be spooktacular with a little planning and imagination. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children's Hospital, offers families tips for Halloween during the COVID-19 pandemic. Search your local area for some drive-through Halloween events like contactless haunted houses or drive-in movies.

  • Have a virtual Halloween party. Invite friends to a virtual party with activities like a costume contest, pumpkin carving or caramel apple decorating.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt with the kids. Hide candy and other fun knick-knacks around the house or set up a glow-in-the-dark hunt in the backyard, by hiding glow bracelets inside small candy bags.
  • Turn your home into a haunted house. Your kids can help you decorate, or you can surprise them when you transform your home into a house of witches, ghosts and goblins.
  • Watch scary movies. If scares are your thing this Halloween, it's a sure-fire bet a good scary movie will do the the trick. Kick back at home and watch a spooky flick or share ghost stories.

Trick-or-treating this Halloween

  • If you do go trick-or-treating, wear a mask outdoors or near people who do not live in your household.
  • Travel in small groups and avoid large gatherings.
  • When giving out candy, hand it out individually, and avoid giant bowls multiple kids will reach into.
  • For trunk-or-treat events, make sure cars are parked more than six feet apart.
  • Talk to neighbors about reverse trick-or-treating:" instead of having the kids go door-to-door, let the candy come to you.

Diwali during COVID-19

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There are a number of safe and virtual activities to do this Diwali that can bring together friends and family from across the world.

While Diwali includes many festivities both outside and in large gatherings, be sure to maintain physical distancing. If you do venture into larger gathering, wear a mask and regularly wash your hands.

Diwali often includes visits to temple. Many temples are not allowing visitors due to coronavirus, and prohibit prasad (offerings). If you do attend a temple, wear a mask, sanitize your hands, and maintain social distancing.

Rangoli is a great way to connect with Diwali traditions while keeping your family safe. The tradition of drawing mandalas in colorful chalk on your door is a fun activity for kids as well as parents.

Safe food sharing at Diwali

Avoid gathering at one house for a potluck. Instead, consider driving around your community to see the other mandalas and diyas.

Sharing food is an important part of Diwali. Catching a coronavirus through surfaces is rare, but it’s still important to be careful when delivering food to other people. Remember to sanitize both your hands and the dish before eating or returning anything.

Celebrating Thanksgiving Safely

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The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving without catching and spreading COVID-19 would be staying home with your immediate household.

In the United States, COVID-19 is surging more than ever, making Thanksgiving and the whole holiday season a dangerous time.

Virtual Thanksgiving celebrations

If nothing else, this pandemic has taught us how to gather virtually. This holiday season is the time to take advantage of what we've learned about the pandemic. Start by getting your family and friends to simply enjoy dinner virtually.

  • Share a recipe ahead of time, then all make the same dish.
  • Share your best fall cocktail or appetizer recipe when you do gather.
  • If family and friends live nearby, deliver them a dish before the meal and then you can all eat together.
  • Go around the virtual room and talk about what you're thankful for this year.

Observing Hanukkah Virtually

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Showing dedication to faith may look a little different this season, but the spirit and the people with whom you celebrate will remain.

Zoom or FaceTime with other family and friends each night to light the menorah. If prayer is involved, consider allowing different households to take turns leading activities that night. Kids can play traditional games like card games or spinning the dreidel over Zoom, too.

Rather than making or sharing food in a gathering, try sharing recipes for classic dishes like latkes and then comparing your results.

Though gift-giving is not a part of Hanukkah for all, remember to sanitize any gifts you give or receive.

How to avoid COVID this Christmas

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While the safest way to celebrate Christmas this year means staying home with your immediate household, it doesn't mean the holiday spirit can't be shared with others.

  • Virtual gift-giving. Don't save the Christmas shopping for the last minute. Instead shop online and avoid department stores. With many local shops forced to close due to the pandemic, many have started offering their goods online. Shopping online can also help support your community during these times, too. Contact or check your local shop's social media for more details.
  • Decorating houses. Perhaps now more than ever, it's time to deck those halls with boughs of holly. Keep the kids engaged during the quarantine and transform your home into a Christmas wonderland. Gather for a car ride through your favorite decorated neighborhoods and show your yuletide spirit.
  • Remote caroling. Keep the household merry during the quarantine and regale family and friends with Christmas carols over Zoom or FaceTime. Maybe even consider scheduling a day for a mini-concert at home!

New Year’s Eve during a pandemic

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Though it may be tempting to celebrate the end of 2020 with a party, remember that with the new year comes the same policies of quarantining and social distancing. But the ball drop this year can be easily livestreamed over a group call, letting you and your loved ones toast champagne safely, as well as together. Or you can watch a movie with your household to ring in the New Year.