A pandemic is the time to be home for the holidays, doctors say — your own home

Kate Murphy
·Producer
·4-min read

There’s no place like home for the holidays during a global pandemic — meaning your own immediate household, urges the experts at the Centers for Disease Control. The agency is advising Americans to consider how to celebrate the holiday season safely to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases specialist, told the Washington Post, “each day, we have another record where it rains between 200,000 to 300,000 new cases a day. We have over 2,000 deaths per day … 300,000 total deaths. I mean, these are things that are data that you can’t run away from.” That’s why Fauci says he’ll be heeding the CDC guidelines and will be celebrating alone with his wife and without their three adult daughters this Christmas. It’s a first for his family, he said, and acknowledged that it’s “painful.”

According to the CDC, “Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread.” For those considering small gatherings, the CDC lists the factors to consider in estimating the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 during those events, including the coronavirus numbers in the community of the gathering; exposure while traveling; the location, duration, number of people and safety precautions in place at the gathering.

Family and their children wave with hand in video call on Christmas. (Getty Images)
Family and their children wave with hand in video call on Christmas. (Getty Images)

CDC safety precautions also recommend that you keep 6 feet away from other people who aren’t in your immediate household while also wearing masks. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Dara Kass says, “That number comes from the general average of how far respiratory droplets would fall between one person and another.” There’s also a difference between being indoors and being outdoors. Small enclosed spaces with poor ventilation pose a greater risk for coronavirus transmission, according to the CDC.

A recent South Korean study found that a high school student inside a restaurant was infected with coronavirus in less than five minutes after standing 20 feet from an out-of-town business visitor who later tested positive for COVID-19. The teenager left home only to go to and from school and had not traveled outside of her town of Jeonju, where there had been no cases for two months. An epidemiological team conducted an investigation using things like interviews, medical history, video footage and even re-created the scenario. The study ultimately found that the infectious respiratory droplets were carried by the restaurant’s airflow system, which had no ventilation.

What does that mean for evaluating the safety of indoor dining and gatherings? According to Dr. Kass, “What it really means is when you are unmasked in any space you are at risk to be exposed or to transmit this coronavirus. It also means that restaurants where people are unmasked, often speaking and eating, provide the highest risk environment for spread of the virus at this point when the virus is basically everywhere [...] so the more barriers we put in [like masks] for those respiratory droplets to be transferred, the better chance we have at not transmitting this virus.”

Is it safe to see people outside one’s household, if one tests negative for the virus? “I cannot stress this enough. There’s no way to test yourself right before an event and go and feel like you’re gathering safely,” Kass says. “I have seen numerous people this week be coronavirus negative before a dinner, a party and then find out the next day or the day after that that someone in their party was coronavirus positive and now everybody at that dinner party unfortunately has the coronavirus.”

Bottom line, when it comes to the 6-foot social distancing rule, Kass says there are no guarantees. Along with the CDC, she advises everyone to “stay at least 6 feet apart, please don’t eat indoors with somebody not in your immediate household. Please mask up if you’re ever indoors with anybody for any reason and keep that mask on. And if you’re sick or unwell, please get tested as soon as possible and tell everybody you saw 48 hours before that positive test that they need to quarantine themselves too.”

Kass says she had a “productive and joyous” Zoom Hanukkah with her family this year and a Zoom Christmas can be done just as successfully — as Dr. Fauci will be doing.