COVID-19 Holiday Celebration Guidelines From the CDC

How to stay safe from the Coronavirus this holiday season according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

With Jennifer Shine Dyer MD, MPH

Coronavirus Holiday CelebrationsPut safety first this year so you can all celebrate together in the years to come.


As Covid-19 rates continue to skyrocket across the country, there’s no denying that the holidays will look a bit different this year. If you or a loved one are high risk because of an endocrine condition such as diabetes or obesity, here are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on how to protect yourself and others from the Coronavirus this year and still enjoy some holiday cheer.

Safely celebrating Thanksgiving 2020

Unfortunately, the blunt reality is that celebrating with anyone outside of your immediate household carries an additional risk. "The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household," announced the CDC, elaborating that any gathering beyond that circle becomes higher risk. Your safest bet is to celebrate virtually with anyone outside of those who share your home or are part of your designated pod. That’s the only way to ensure that none of your loved ones will carry or catch the Coronavirus. And this goes for everyone, not just those above 65 or who are immunocompromised.

Follow Fauci's lead

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that he’ll be dining at home with his wife, and possibly a neighbor within his pod, and skipping the festivities with his three adult children this year. That may not be a possibility for you, as you may have college kids who have nowhere else to go but home for the holidays. Or you may live alone and find some form of connectivity a lifeline.

Research shows that even small gatherings have the potential to spread COVID-19. In fact, these types of gatherings in which guards are down and you feel the safest are fueling the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. All it takes is one asymptomatic carrier.

Keeping this in mind, if you're planning a gathering or planning on heading home for the holidays, follow these steps to maximize the safety of those attending. 

Communication and transparency are key for small social gatherings during COVID-19

“Your relatives with endocrine conditions are smart, they have been living through a difficult time and are likely concerned too,” explains Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD, MPH. “Work out a plan to keep them, your family, and your community safe.”

Although testing may make you feel safer, the only guarantee that COVID-19 won't unexpectedly crash your (small) party is if all people who are gathering agree to quarantine for two weeks in advance. A person who tests negative could still end up being an asymptomatic carrier of the virus or have a faulty test. As some tests can take days for results and it's possible to catch the virus after the results and not know it, it’s important for everyone attending to shelter at home and not venture out at all for two weeks before a planned intimate celebration of under 10 people to minimize risk as much as possible.

If you or your loved one needs to travel, driving is the best way to assure there’s little to no exposure en route. When flying, a two-week quarantine after the flight is the only way to come close to guaranteeing a Coronavirus-free get-together. If quarantining after a flight is not possible, air travelers should wear masks at all times and wash hands frequently. 

How to host an intimate gathering as safely as possible during the Coronavirus

Even if your group of fewer than 10 guests quarantined as best they could, follow these CDC guidelines to reduce the risk of transmission from an unknown asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19.

  1. If the weather permits, host festivities outside. Since this is getting more difficult in much of the country with dropping temperatures, consider fire pits and other outside sources of warmth such as outdoor heaters to gather in the fresh air, rather than indoors.
  2. Wear masks at all times other than when drinking or eating if you must host a family member who has recently traveled and is not a member of your household or pod. Masks have been proven to effectively halt transmission of COVID-19.
  3. Instead of setting a traditional table, eat in a more casual way that's socially distanced at different stations at least 6 feet apart.
  4. Wash your hands frequently.
  5. Serve food individually and not buffet style. Make sure that anyone who is not a member of the household or pod who is cooking and serving food is masked.
  6. Do not allow anyone who displays symptoms of COVID-19 to be a part of even a small masked and socially distanced gathering.


Virtual holiday celebrations that go beyond Zoom

Perhaps you want to show the people you love that you're thinking of them but don’t want to take the risk of bringing COVID-19 into your home. Maybe you have Zoom fatigue from working remotely and can't imagine Zooming on your time off. Here are some other creative ways to connect with love ones and celebrate from a distance. (Although a Zoom toast or party can be unexpectedly heartwarming, if you want to give it a try.)

  1. Mail your cheer. It may sound old-fashioned, but receiving actual handwritten mail and care packages instead of simply bills or an Amazon delivery can really brighten any day. Send an extra special package filled with old family photos or perhaps a box of gran’s famous double chocolate cookies to show you care.
  2. Drop off festive food and drink at a loved one’s doorstep. Maybe it’s that special pumpkin chiffon pie baked fresh from a family recipe or a particular bottle of bubbly that you've enjoyed together in the past.
  3. Plan to watch a beloved movie simultaneously and connect through text or video calls so you can interact while you’re watching. It doesn’t even have to be a film. Maybe it’s listening to that cheesy Christmas album together or choosing a show to share and watch every episode at the same time over the holiday break.


Help ensure that Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas celebrations don’t turn into superspreader events. Taking this holiday season seriously and not letting your guard down, even with those you trust the most, is imperative so we can return to our usual celebrations and traditions sooner rather than later in the years to come.

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