CDC Guidelines and Safety Precautions
Coronavirus vacations come with many embarrassing questions and conversations.
Is it safe to organize or attend a family reunion? Should people wear masks and social distancing? How to clarify the rules? What if you wanted to skip the celebrations this year?
The season can be especially tough for families, said William Doherty, family therapist, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project.
“I think we won’t have seen anything quite like the weirdness of (this) vacation,” Doherty said TODAY, explaining the dilemma some might be feeling.
“These are the main events in family life. The only thing that compares are big events like weddings and funerals, so the stakes are high. The worst part is being seen as a Christmas or Thanksgiving “ruin” for everyone.
At the same time, infectious disease experts fear that people will let their guard down when they go on vacation, forgetting what is going on in the wider world.
COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, so there are tough decisions for everyone to make, said Dr. Marissa Levine, director of the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“People want to get back to normal,” Levine said. “(But) if we let our guard down now, it could be really problematic heading into flu season.”
Many families are already withdrawing: Nearly half of people, 47%, polled by Morning Consult this month said their regular vacation meetings have been canceled this year.
Consider the risk
In its advice on holiday celebrations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that celebrating with members of your own household poses a low risk of spreading COVID-19.
Other in-person gatherings can be riskier, depending on where they take place, how long people are together, how many are there and where they are from.
A good first step is to take an inventory of your own risk of COVID-19 and that of those around you, and decide whether it is safe to attend or host it. People who are over 60 or have underlying health conditions like lung or heart disease “should really think twice,” especially if there is significant transmission in their community, warned Levine.
Check out the CDC’s map of community levels of COVID-19 in your state and the state you are traveling to or welcoming guests to.
If there’s a high transmission rate, limit the guest list and consider staying in your own social bubble, Levine advised.
Navigate difficult family conversations
Start chatting now with your loved ones and let them know as soon as possible if you are going to host or participate so that you can prepare everyone in advance, Doherty advised.
Think about what you want to do and stick to your decision: Do not get into “deep negotiations,” he added. If you’re the regular Thanksgiving host and decide you won’t be doing it this year, for example, don’t engage in a back-and-forth between parents who want to change their mind. “If you start negotiating, it only prolongs the pain,” Doherty said.
If you skip a meeting, express your regret: He recommended saying, “I feel bad for not coming. It’s been scary – I wish it wasn’t. I know this is going to bother a lot of people, but we came to the conclusion that it was the best thing for us to do. Explain that this is an emergency maneuver for 2020 and that things will hopefully get back to normal next year.
Let people know the house rules in advance: If you need masks and social distancing, discuss it informally with family members ahead of time, make sure they’re prepared to comply, and put the rules in writing – maybe in the email that lists what everyone is bringing to the rally, Doherty advised. You can also display the rules in the kitchen or dining room – playfully, with a light touch – to serve as a reminder.
Minimize the risk of infection
Having a small family reunion outside where there is good air circulation and room for social distancing is a safer way to leave, but it’s not always realistic in cold weather.
Here’s what to keep in mind:
Keep windows or doors open if possible: Poorly ventilated indoor gatherings pose a greater risk than well ventilated ones, the CDC noted.
Encourage people to bring and use masks: “The problem with family reunions is that we don’t keep our physical distances, so this can be a necessary ingredient,” Levine said. “It’s really important not to discount masks. “
Practice social distancing: Space chairs at the dining table or set up two dining tables and divide the meeting into two groups so people don’t have to sit close to each other. Think twice before hugging your loved ones: “I hate to say it’s a risky business, but it is,” Levine said. “This might be one of those years where family reunions (include) a lot of elbow bumps.” Consider staying in a hotel rather than with a relative if the house is cramped.
Limit the number of guests: The UK has a “rule of six” banning social gatherings of more than six people. But there isn’t an absolute number that experts know to be sure of, Levine said, so she couldn’t pinpoint how many too many people to invite. “The less, the better,” she says. “The risk increases as you have more people. “
Don’t come iif you are sick: Do not attend or organize a family reunion if you have symptoms. If you’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19, you shouldn’t attend or greet them either, Levine said.