Problem-solving around COVID safety and how to handle the complexity of family gatherings this challenging holiday season can cause anxiety. It’s normal to feel some stress when it comes to balancing the desire to have family gatherings with staying safe, especially in families where there are disagreements about the safest behavior. We have a lot of questions. Is it safe to travel? Do I have to test before or after? Do I have to quarantine before or after?
1. Testing before travel
If you do plan to go to a family gathering this holiday season, testing can help you stay safe. The absolute safest way to travel to extended family is to get tested two weeks before your trip, quarantine for about 10 days, then travel. This may not be the most realistic, as most people need to purchase groceries in person and/or fly on an airplane, for example. However, the closer to this ideal the better when it comes to limiting exposure. Consider getting a test if one is available about two weeks before a trip and limit exposure to anyone else between the negative test and your gathering.
2. Keeping to a tight bubble
Celebrations with the people you live is the safest option this holiday season, and if you are gathering with others, smaller outdoor gatherings are best. Some states are banning gatherings of more than three small households, though fewer people is always safer in your “bubble,” Limiting the size of gatherings and considering using virtual meetings instead this year is one way to be extra cautious. Though having honest conversations with friends and family members about their risk factors may be difficult, it will help you make informed choices to protect your health.
3. Socially distant outdoor time
One of the safest ways to spend time with family—especially for larger gatherings—is to keep things outdoors. If you plan to see more than one household or about ten people, consider having this gathering take place outdoors with some physical space between parties. Wearing masks and standing more than six feet apart in an outdoor area can go a long way to reduce risk. An event like a trip to the beach, park, or hiking trail can be a good way to achieve this while getting some vitamin D this holiday season, if you live in an area where that’s possible.
4. Keep larger gatherings short
Studies show longer exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 can increase risk of developing the disease and cause a more serious illness from it. This means keeping gatherings shorter can reduce risk. Official guidelines suggest limiting larger gatherings such as trips to the grocery store or outdoor time around many other people to less than 2 hours. Most guidelines suggest that risk is far lower if you spend only a few minutes around someone with COVID, so limiting time spent around strangers, such as at the grocery store, can help. Limiting time and wearing a mask use can greatly lower your risk of COVID-19.
5. Maintain personal health
With anxiety surrounding COVID-19 on top of all the normal stress of the holiday season, it’s not an easy time to maintain mental health. However, as always, the mind and body are connected. Maintaining your physical health by eating healthy meals most days over the holidays, exercising frequently, sleeping well, drinking lots of water, and managing stress levels can help with keeping anxiety at a minimum. Additionally, maintaining physical health can help you in the event you do become infected with COVID-19, so it’s a great time to stay motivated to stay healthy.