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Drew: Critical Safety Tips for Small Holiday Gatherings and Celebrations

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

Fall and winter ushers in a majority of America’s most popular holidays. These consecutive holidays occur over a short span of several weeks. These holidays include typically Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve/Christmas, and New Year’s Eve/New Year. Associated with these holidays are gatherings with family and friends which include a smorgasbord of various foods and spirits. In years past, food offerings, preparation and display were one of the host/hostess’ greatest concern and focus. Holiday cookbooks and magazine articles about traditional holiday recipes have been extremely popular.
This year there is a new uninvited guest in town. One who travels worldwide – coronavirus COVID-19. This new uninvited guest has drastically altered the concerns and focus for all host/hostess as well as guests. This uninvited guest has been a true game changer.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening, so holiday plans must be modified to help reduce the risk for families, friends, and the community at large. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
So, will families and friends have an opportunity to gather and celebrate the different holidays is a major question and concern for many. To help with this major decision, the CDC, along with the Mayo Clinic with locations across the country, have offered some COVID safety tips/suggestions to practice for those who desire to proceed with hosting or attending a holiday gathering.

This week’s article will share some holiday safety tips/suggestions provided by these two organizations. Their primary intent is to help identify how one can limit the risk of infection with the COVID-19 virus and protect others when hosting or attending an in-person holiday gathering.
Note these safety tips below are not guarantees, merely celebratory safety tips/suggestions. They are not to replace or supplement any state, local, territorial, or tribal health laws, rules, and regulations with which all gatherings must comply. The holiday gathering COVID-19 safety tips/suggestions are:

Make Gatherings Small
• All gatherings should be small. Check the COVID-19 rate in your area to help determine if you should host or attend a gathering as well as the gathering size. It is recommended small indoor gatherings should consist of 10 people or less and outdoor gatherings should consist of a maximum of 25 people.
• Small gatherings with those living in the same household pose the lowest risks.
• Limit the number of attendees as much as possible from different households.
• Your guests should always remain six feet apart and should avoid any direct contact. This includes shaking hands, hugs, or other forms of greetings.
• The length of your event is important. Longer events pose greater risks. Keep your event short.

Gathering Location
• If possible, host your gathering outdoors rather than indoors. Even outdoor gatherings require guests to wear a mask when they are not eating or drinking.
• If hosting outdoors, set up outdoor seating under a pop-up open tent versus a tent with walls. It is important for the air to circulate. When setting up your seating, practice social distancing in the arrangement.
• If hosting indoors, increase your ventilation as much as possible by opening windows and doors to the extent that it is safe and feasible based upon the weather. Use all exhaust fans including those in your kitchen and bathrooms. You want air to circulate.
• Avoid hosting a gathering in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.

Mask and Other COVID-19 Safety Measures
• Require ALL guests ages 2 and older to wear masks. The masks should cover their mouth and nose. Guests from different households should always practice social distancing of six feet or more. Provide a plastic zip bag with the guest’s name. This should be used for them to store their mask when they are not eating or drinking.
• It is alright to send out your COVID-19 safety measures to your guests prior to your holiday gathering. It should include that all guests must wear masks which cover both their mouth and nose except when eating or drinking, practice social distancing with those outside their households and also make them aware that if any of the following applies such as experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, tested positive, been exposed or waiting on their COVID-19 test results, you suggest they not attend this year.  Remember you can always reach out to them virtually to share in the celebration.
• Wear a mask while preparing food for or serving food to others who do not live in your household.
• A single person should serve the food. This person should wear disposable gloves and change them, as necessary.
• Limit the number of guests entering the food areas.
• Avoid potluck gatherings this year.
• Use single-use options or designate one person to serve shareable items such as salad dressings, plates and utensils, condiments, etc. Serve individual beverages in cans or bottles rather than those in liquid containers that require ice and cups.
• Make sure everyone washes their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving, and eating food and after taking trash out. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.

Over the next few weeks, the safety articles will explore further safety holiday safety tips to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19. This is a time Keeping an Eye on Safety is critical. Small gatherings and celebrations can be enjoyed while taking the necessary COVID-19 safety steps to protect everyone.