Get into the Holiday Spirit (Safely) This Year

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP
November 7, 2020
7 min read

It’s almost the most wonderful time of the year…even though 2020 has been full of less than wonderful events. But even though festive gatherings will look a little different this year, it doesn’t mean your holidays should be anything short of merry and bright. No matter what you celebrate, minimize your stress levels and up those holly and jolly vibes by referring to our handy holiday COVID-19 guide.

To Travel or Not to Travel: The Big Holiday Conundrum

The holiday season usually means lots of travel by plane, train, or automobile, but not this year. The Centers for Disease Control is advising people to avoid travel altogether in order to stay safe and keep COVID-19 cases from resurging. While staying home has many people mumbling, Bah Humbug, focus on starting some new traditions by hosting an event with friends or family who live nearby instead.

And for those that have to travel during the holidays, consider the following before taking to the skies (or road or sea):

  • Consider the age and vulnerability of the people you will be visiting. Old folks, youngsters, and loved ones with chronic conditions are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and the flu.
  • Ask yourself these questions: Who else will be at the gathering? Will you be safe to pod together? What have been people’s exposure risks? How many households will be podding together? Will everyone be able to take a COVID test before gathering?
  • Instead of couch surfing this year, consider getting a hotel room to help maintain social distance.
  • Have a post-celebration plan in place before you travel. Be prepared to communicate with those you have been in contact with should someone get sick.

Lowering Your Risk En Route

  • Do your research and choose an airline that is adhering to the cleanliness protocols and is not selling middle seats.
  • Get tested 5 days before your travel date and shelter-in-place until you leave. If you need to run errands before you leave, do it before you are tested.
  • When you’re in the airport be sure to wear a mask at all times, even when you are seated.
  • Bring your own snacks and food with you (airlines are not offering meals on flights) as well as your own hand sanitizer.
  • When you land, avoid public transportation or rides from people outside your household.
  • In a rideshare or taxi service, keep windows open and keep your mask on at all times.
  • When you enter the household ‘pod’ you are staying with, remove and wash your clothes before making contact with anyone.
  • When seeing family who are not podding with you, elbow bump rather than hug. Keep your masks on even if you are 6 feet away. Use hand sanitizer before touching common surfaces such as serving utensils. Sanitize shared bathrooms multiple times during a visit.

California gathering guidelines define a small gathering as being between 1–3 households, including the host household.

The Gift of Gab: Talk about Exposure Risk and Getting Tested Before Gathering

This year give the gift of good health. Although talking about exposure risk and getting tested doesn’t scream holiday cheer, it does help ease people’s minds about getting together. Get tested as close to your gathering date as possible. While you are waiting for your results, be sure to shelter-in-place.

Before going to any holiday event, be sure to go through this checklist of questions:

  • Are there essential workers in the household? How many COVID cases have they been exposed to? Do they interact with the public?
  • Is there anyone in the household who has tested positive for COVID-19 recently? Is there anyone in the household who engages in risky behavior like refusing to wear a mask in public?

Celebrating with People Outside Your Pod

Planning in-person holiday gatherings with people outside of your household? Consider asking all guests to get a COVID-19 test before attending and quarantining for up to a week before the party to avoid any potential outbreaks. Here are some other tips on how to be the host with the most during a global pandemic:

  • The weather outside might be frightful but try to host activities outside as much as possible. This helps everyone maintain social distance while eating, drinking, and being merry.
  • If you do host an event in your home, limit the number of people inside , maintain social distance as much as possible, and keep windows open for adequate airflow. Consider using disposable plates and silverware and avoid making shareable dishes that require people to pick up foods with their hands.
  • Whether you’re inside or out, make sure your guests wear masks at all times. Provide hand sanitizer and extra disposable masks at the door and never share masks.

How many is too many? As of October 19, 2020, California gathering guidelines define a small gathering as being between 1–3 households, including the host household. The addition of each extra household poses greater risks.

You CAN Say No

Change is hard, especially when so many aspects of daily life have been altered this year. Some of your friends and family might want to celebrate “like normal.” Attending multiple events, even if they are all considered small, is a surefire way to spread any germs or viruses you picked up along the way. Make one in-person plan (if it’s safe) and opt to celebrate the others virtually. If you do feel obligated to attend multiple events, space them out at least two weeks apart and get tested before exposing yourself to a new group of people.

However, we empower you to take care of yourself and your well-being. That means it’s totally fine to decline invitations to the annual holiday party if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Here are some alternative ways to celebrate beloved traditions this year:

  • Replace high-risk family traditions with lower risk ones. For example, suggest a brisk outdoor walk or a sledding excursion rather than the annual potluck.
  • Make plans to visit and connect with older members of your family via phone, a virtual gathering, or through a glass door or window. You can still be together safely this year.
  • Plan a fun celebration as a group for when it’s safe to be together again. This can be a cathartic and bonding experience and gives everyone something to look forward to!

Assessing Your Risk During the Holidays

Low Risk

  • Having a small dinner with people in your immediate household
  • Throwing a virtual dinner party where you share recipes beforehand, so you can all eat the same dishes together.
  • Watching movies, sports, parades, and other events from home
  • Shopping online rather than in-person
  • Projecting a holiday movie favorite outdoors for a small gathering of friends and neighbors in your community. Just make sure all households sit 6 feet apart and wear masks.
  • Going on a walk around the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations
  • Sending gifts in the mail for gift exchanges and opening them together virtually
  • Meeting at the local sledding hill and BYOHC (hot chocolate) while staying 6 feet apart

Moderate Risk

  • Hosting a small outdoor barbeque or picnic with people who live nearby
  • Visiting pumpkin patches and apple orchards where masks and hand sanitizer are required
  • Holding a small indoor dinner with windows open and plenty of ventilation. Create a table layout that allows folks from different households to stay 6 feet apart.
  • Attending bake sales or fall school festivals with “carnival” games, even if they are designed for “social distancing”
  • Singing or chanting in groups with masks

High Risk

  • Playing flag football or any casual contact sport game
  • Hosting an indoor potluck with multiple households present
  • Holding an indoor movie night with more than several households present
  • Sharing a food spread or having finger food at gatherings. Consider using disposable plates and silverware and avoid making shareable dishes that require people to pick up foods with their hands.
  • Shopping in crowded stores
  • Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race or sporting event
  • Attending crowded parades
  • Gathering with larger groups of people or crowds and drinking alcohol
  • Attending in-person gift exchanges with more than 3 households
  • Singing, chanting, or playing wind instruments in groups without masks
  • Having in-person gift exchanges or events with multiple households within a couple of days of each other


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Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP

As Carbon Health’s Chief Innovation Officer, Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP, guides clinical innovation through product development, service expansion, and partnerships with transformative companies working to improve the healthcare ecosystem. He is an emergency medicine physician, a former high school teacher, and a reformed academic researcher. Caesar co-founded Direct Urgent Care to deliver technology-enabled urgent care throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has practiced at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the University Hospital of Columbia, and Weill Cornell Medicine. In his spare time, Caesar advises healthcare startups, cheers on the Warriors, tries various HIIT workouts, and daydreams about what the future of health will look like.


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