First it was the 4th of July. Then Halloween was a wash, as was Thanksgiving. But come on now, Christmas, too? It seems like almost every family reunion in 2020 has been dashed due to Covid-19. But it’s almost the end of the year, and by now you’re probably pretty desperate to spend some quality time with loved ones—outside of the ones you live with, that is. But how do you safely host Christmas dinner during COVID? Should you even have or attend a holiday gathering? You might want to put all those extra those plates away.
It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And it still can be, but most likely not with anyone outside of your immediate family. “Under no circumstances should people gather together for the Christmas holidays,” Dr. Marc S. Rabinowitz, MD, an internal medicine doctor tells Romper in an email. “The ICUs are at full capacity, and the problem is people are infected and are asymptomatic.” Asymptomatic spread is a way in which people, such as Dr. Rabinowitz himself, became infected with the Coronavirus and recovered weeks later. “This is how my partner contracted the virus, as have many others,” he says.
Now, we know that this isn’t what anyone wants to hear, especially after so many, many months of quarantines, isolation, and (ugh), distance learning. So while the CDC guidance is for you to stay home this holiday season with those you live with you, it might be too tempting to not gather, especially come Christmas. So if you’re going roast chestnuts over an open fire with your friends and far-flung relatives, you need to minimize the risk as much as possible, advises Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in Nashville, TN. “As we look at all holiday celebrations, it’s still Covid 2020,” says Dr. Schaffner in a phone interview with Romper. “A dinner, with everyone gathered around the warm, wonderful dining room table — that’s pretty risky.”
But with every song on the radio crooning about how you’ll be coming home for Christmas, how can you resist the temptation to not see your loved ones? Well, you can’t, and that’s why you need to figure out how to gather as cautiously as possible. “The question we have to ask ourselves is: what sort of modifications could we make to make things less risky for everyone?” says Dr. Schaffner, who first suggests taking a good, long look at your guest list to see who should come — and who should stay home for both their health and yours.
Even if you’ve cherry-picked through your guest list to ensure that everyone attending has been diligently wearing their mask and doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions that could pose a health threat, you still need to know how to celebrate the holiday. “It’s important that everyone understands what the ground rules are,” says Dr. Schaffner, who advises against having an actual meal and advocates for having a sweet (and short) visit instead. “A visit abbreviates the time, and it allows us to wear masks the whole time.”
While everyone might be dreaming of a white Christmas, those who get to spend the holidays in shorts and flip flops and 75 degree weather might be able to weather out (ha) this Christmas and see family members. “In warmer climates, perhaps people can come together on the porch or backyard and see each other, but keep social distance,” says Dr. Schaffner. And before welcoming your guests with open arms, you might want to whip out your trusty thermometer to take their temperature, "but this is no guarantee that they are not infected,” cautions Dr. Rabinowitz. “Certainly if they have a fever they should not leave the house at all and should seek medical attention.”
Is all this fun? No, not really, particularly when you consider Christmases of the past, and compare them to this crappy one. Dr. Schaffner feels your pain. “If all of this sounds a bit artificial, or strained or stiff, it is,” he says. “But visits can be done with great care, but you have to think about things while you do them.”
While Covid might feel like the Grinch that stole Christmas, just keep in mind that this is just part of 2020, folks. And while the safest way to spend the holiday is at home with your immediate family, if you’re willing to make some major modifications, you can reduce the risk. Says Dr. Schaffner: “We want to make sure that everyone who is present this year, will be present next year.”
And that, my friends, would be the greatest present of all.
Dr. Marc S. Rabinowitz, MD, an internal medicine doctor
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in Nashville, TN