How to See Family & Friends More Safely Over the Holidays PART I, The safest thing you can do is only spend the holidays with people you live with. Read our blog post: see Part 2 of this blog for tips on creating a bubble or pod.

The safest thing you can do is only spend the holidays with people you live with. 

Right now, cases are continuing to rise in Dane County, Wisconsin, and the country, which means that there’s more and more risk of you coming in contact with COVID-19 and becoming infected. And while you may have a mild case, there is always the potential that you could become seriously ill, have long-term symptoms, or pass COVID-19 along to someone more vulnerable than you. We highly recommend not attending gatherings with people you don’t live with.

We don’t recommend that anyone has gatherings this winter, but you should especially not see people outside your household if anyone in the group has one of these risk factors, per CDC:

  • Over age 65
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, heart disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Weakened immune system (immunocompromised state) from organ transplant
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes

Please pay attention to current public health orders in Dane County and follow them for any get-together. If you are gathering in a county with less strict orders, we still highly recommend you follow our order requirements, as Wisconsin is a COVID-19 hotspot and you could get or spread COVID-19 to people outside Dane County.

If you are going to see people you don’t live with, follow these precautions.

Everyone going to an event should quarantine for 14 days beforehand.

Quarantining, if you do it right, can reduce your risk of spreading COVID-19 at a gathering. In order for this strategy to reduce risk, though, every single person attending the gathering needs to follow the below guidance for 14 days. If you cannot ensure that everyone will quarantine correctly, then do not attend or host the gathering.

When quarantining, you can: 

  • Go outside by yourself or with people you live with
  • Pick up groceries or essentials only through contactless pickup or delivery
  • Work or attend school from home
  • Hang out with people virtually

You cannot:

  • Go to work, school, or childcare in person
  • Go inside a store or other public building
  • Socialize with anyone outside of your household
Change your traditions around a holiday to keep events small, masked, distanced, brief, and outside.

If you are going to gather, but not strictly quarantine, then the next best thing you can do is take many precautions at the gathering. We strongly urge you to only spend the holidays with people you live with. But if you are going to gather with people you don't live with, we ask that you take as many of these precautions as possible:

  • Keep gatherings as small as possible. Follow gathering restrictions outlined by Public Health orders in Dane County, if gathering in Dane County borders.
  • Wear masks any time you are not eating or drinking. Wisconsin orders and Dane County orders require masks in many situations.
  • Stay as far away as possible from people you don’t live with—ideally 6 feet, but more is better. Physical distancing at gatherings is required by Dane County orders.
  • Limit the amount of time you are spending together.
  • Hold events outside in well-ventilated spaces. 

None of these prevention methods are 100% effective, and you may still be exposed to COVID-19 if you attend the event. After the event and for the next 14 days, stay home as much as possible, monitor your symptoms, and get tested if you have any symptoms, even if they are mild.

What doesn’t help

Getting tested before an event doesn’t prevent COVID-19 transmission. A COVID-19 test only tells you your status at the time of testing. If you or a household member has left home to go to work, school, childcare, sports, socialize, etc. at any time in the two weeks before you got tested, then you could still could have COVID-19 and could spread it to others at a gathering. Unless you can quarantine for two weeks before an event, getting tested will do nothing to stop COVID-19 transmission.

Following only one or two precautions won’t always prevent the spread of COVID-19. No prevention method is 100% effective, so only following one or two isn’t enough protection to ensure COVID-19 is not spread at an event. For example, if you wear a mask to a Thanksgiving gathering, but Thanksgiving is indoors and close together, then you are still at a high risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. If you can only follow one or two precautions at an event, then don’t attend the event.

If you’re within six feet of someone for a total of 15 min in one day, it’s close contact, even if you wear a mask or are outside. If you’re within 6 feet of someone for a total of 15 minutes in a day, then you are considered a “close contact” of that person. You may also be a close contact if you share food, cups, or utensils, hug or have physical contact, or get coughed or sneezed on. Distancing is absolutely essential in stopping the spread, but may not be sufficient in poorly ventilated spaces. Holding an outdoor event isn’t enough if you are still hugging, talking close, or sitting next to others.

The bottom line

When you could consider seeing family or friends for the holidays

  • When everyone in the group rarely or never participates in higher risk activities, like attending work, school or childcare in person, socializing with others, eating in restaurants, or going to gyms
  • When no one in the group is at increased risk of having severe illness from COVID-19
  • When you trust that everyone in the group will quarantine for two weeks before the event
  • When you trust that everyone in the group will be honest about their exposure risk and will share if they test positive after the event
  • When you can keep the group small and following public health orders

When you should not see family or friends for the holidays

  • When anyone in the group works in person, attends school or childcare in person, socializes in person with others, or participates in another higher risk activity
  • When people in the group are at increased risk of severe illness
  • When you are not sure that everyone will quarantine for two weeks before the event
  • When you’re not able to be certain about everyone’s potential exposures
  • If your group is too large for current orders or to ensure physical distancing
This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Public Health Madison & Dane County and a link back to the original post.