Tips for gathering safely during the holidays

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The annual preparations for holiday gatherings normally focus on menu and decorations, but COVID-19 has shifted attention to the logistics of making get-togethers safe for all.

Everybody can take steps to ensure that holiday celebrations are meaningful and safe, a University of Mississippi health expert advises.

“Things like the level of risk, duration and number of attendees per event should be carefully considered when planning,” said Lauren Durham, nurse practitioner at University Health Services. “Even the incidentals like eating utensils, serving of food and cleaning up before and after are vital when COVID-19 can be so easily contracted.”

Durham offered the following safety tips for gatherings:

  • Consider the risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings are low-risk. At somewhat more risk are smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects and come from the same local area – community, town, city, or county. Higher risk are medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area. Large in-person gatherings, where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area, are the highest risk.
  • Duration of the event: Gatherings that last longer pose a greater risk than shorter gatherings.
  • Consider outdoor events rather than indoor. Always limit the number of attendees.
  • Maintain 6 feet distance from others and practice social distancing. This includes minimizing gestures, such as hugging or shaking hands.
  • Wear protective equipment. Mask up at all times.
  • Practice sanitation. Encourage good handwashing or hand sanitizer use. Have plenty of soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, tissues, cleaning supplies, EPA-approved disinfection supplies, cloth face coverings, no-touch/foot pedal garbage cans, and disinfectant wipes.
  • Keep safe around food and drinks. Encourage already-made plates vs. self-serve to prevent multiple individuals from touching utensils or food. Use individual packets or assign one individual to serve sharable items. Avoid self-serve drink stations.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more tips on holiday celebrations and small gatherings and considerations for events and gatherings.

Story by Edwin B. Smith, University of Mississippi

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