Holidays include traditions that bring family and friends together. When the holiday season comes during a pandemic, the yearly traditional gatherings may call for some changes that will keep everyone safe and healthy. Some people who are at risk for serious viral illnesses, especially seniors and anyone with underlying health issues, may want to forego celebrating with anyone who does not live in their home.

This does not mean that you cannot enjoy the holiday with loved ones. But, with some prior planning, you can limit the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus for everyone who comes into your home or if you are going into someone else’s home. Here are some tips to consider when forming your holiday plans.

1. Your Health
Before making any holiday plans make sure that you are safeguarding yourself. Getting the flu shot does not prevent you from getting the coronavirus, but it will help to protect you from other communicable illnesses. A free flu shot is one of your Medicare coverage benefits that you can take advantage of annually and an added step in staying healthy during a pandemic.

If you are not feeling well and have any of the symptoms associated with the coronavirus such as a temperature, cough, or difficulty breathing, you need to contact your doctor immediately and self-quarantine. Stay home and do not let anyone come to visit. Testing for the COVID-19 virus is now a Medicare coverage benefit. Check your local Medicare requirements to know whether you need a doctor’s note to have the test or if your doctor’s office can administer the test.

If you live with someone who is sick, whether with a cold, the flu, or the coronavirus, find a location in the house where that person can remain isolated. Protect yourself from infection by wearing a mask and gloves when caring for that person, wash your hands frequently, and disinfect any commonly used surfaces and doorknobs.

2. Traveling
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people do not use public transportation for holiday visits this year due to the pandemic. If you or your guests are traveling in the local area, the safest way to get around is to use your personal vehicle. Be sure your gas tank is full so that you can make a round trip without the need to make any stops. This way, you will limit your exposure to strangers and potentially contaminated surfaces.

3. When Gathering in Your Home
If your holiday plans include having guests come to your home, consider limiting the number of people that can safely practice indoor social distancing. Some states have imposed gathering limits, so stay aware of local and state guidance during the holiday season. Too many people gathering together who do not live in the same household can raise the risk of spreading the virus. It is okay to ask your guests for the following information.

• Do they have the virus?
• Have they been in contact with anyone who has had the virus within the past few weeks?
• Do they have any of the symptoms of the virus or the flu?
• Have they done any long-distance traveling within the past few weeks?

If anyone answers yes to any of these questions, you must ask them to stay home for the health and safety of everyone. It is also okay to ask your guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking, and to wash their hands when they enter your home and after they eat.

You can limit the number of people preparing the food in your kitchen and they should wear masks and gloves while handling the food. Have one or two designated to serve individual meals on disposable plates to limit how many people will be sharing utensils. Drinks should be served in plastic cups so that they can be thrown away when empty. Wipe down commonly used surfaces throughout the gathering.

If the weather is comfortable, you might consider an outdoor meal on a patio, or opening the windows for fresh air if eating indoors.

4. When Gathering Away from Home
If you are planning to go to a holiday meal at a relative’s home, you can ask the host the same questions listed above that you would ask if they were coming into your home. You can also tell the host your answers to these questions and take the same precautions of wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and cleaning any surfaces that you touch. This routine will help with the safety and health of everyone at the gathering, especially when you have not been in daily contact with these people.

5. Holidays from a Distance
If you have been very careful about your contact with loved ones and strangers in the weeks leading up to a holiday, or you feel uncomfortable about having or going to a social gathering, it is okay to have a meal at home without any guests. If you don’t want to do a lot of food preparation for just yourself and anyone else who lives with you, you can order a ready-made meal to be delivered to your home.

You can still enjoy seeing your friends and family with a drive-by visit. Plan to drive by their homes, stop and wave, and even chat from a distance. This would be an ideal time to gift wrap a dessert that you can leave on someone’s doorstep for them to enjoy later. Or, your family can plan a drive-by visit to your home.

Another ideal visit from a distance is to video chat or plan a Zoom visit from the comfort and safety of your home. Everyone can schedule a time for a Zoom after-dinner gathering to stay connected and even to share a dessert or a glass of wine from a distance.

We can get through this pandemic when we all work together and practice good hygiene and safety protocols. While we will all miss our holiday traditions, taking good care of safety and health will enable us to all together next year.

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