With daylight hours shortening, colorful leaves covering the ground, and a crisp breeze chilling the morning air, our New England fall soon will transition into winter. Many look forward to this time of year with great anticipation, knowing the holiday season will soon arrive. This usually represents a special time to spend with close friends and family inside our homes where we enjoy food, drink, and laughter. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly expanding here in Massachusetts, throughout the United States and elsewhere, our holidays need to be approached differently.
We’ve received many inquiries about how to safely celebrate and would like to address some of these questions.
Can I spend the holidays indoors with friends and family?
While this can be a wonderful and joyous time of year, we must be mindful of the health of our family members, friends, and loved ones. We each have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to our greater community at-large. Seemingly trivial decisions about small gatherings can have much larger ramifications. In August, a small wedding celebration in Maine led to over 175 COVID-19 cases.
What if I obtain a COVID-19 test before the holiday?
A negative COVID-19 test shortly before attending an indoor gathering is not particularly helpful. A single nasopharyngeal PCR test often will generate a false negative test result, especially if obtained too early in the virus’ incubation period. The rapid antigen test is even less reliable, particularly in those who are asymptomatic.
While symptoms typically develop 5-7 days following an exposure, occasionally it may take 14 days for an infected individual to become symptomatic. Thus, if one of your guests were to be exposed to COVID-19 on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, they may have a negative test on Tuesday, celebrate Thanksgiving with you on Thursday, but then develop symptoms on Friday. Remember that those infected with COVID-19 are contagious 1-2 days prior to symptom onset.
How can we safely get together?
We do not advise you to spend time indoors with other households. However, if you must do so, there are precautionary measures you should implement. Since COVID-19’s incubation period can extend 14 days, the only way to safely congregate indoors is for all participants to fully quarantine for 14 days prior to the gathering.
When getting together with others, consider the following suggestions:
- Wear a mask as much as possible. Remove the mask briefly only for food and drink
- Try to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from non-household contacts
- Do not share food, drink, cups, or utensils
- Spend time outdoors (weather permitting)
- Open doors and windows
- Keep group sizes small and visits short
- Per current Massachusetts guidelines, indoor groups must be limited to 10 people, while outdoor gatherings should be limited to 25 participants
- Avoid shaking hands, hugging, kissing, singing, and shouting
- Increase the spacing between guests at the dinner table. Consider placing multiple tables in multiple rooms
- Give each household their own table
- Be mindful of those who may be at increased risk should they be exposed to COVID-19
- Do not allow guests who have COVID-19 symptoms or who may have been exposed within the past 14 days
We know these are challenging times, and this is not how we wish to spend the holidays. Hopefully, a small sacrifice this year may enable us to celebrate the holidays together next year.
Wishing you good health during the holiday season,
Brad Weiner, MD
This blog is for informational purposes only. It does not replace medical care from a licensed physician. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.