Holidays are usually a time for family, friends and celebration. During COVID-19, they're also a time of great risk. The hard truth has come back time after time: it's incredibly difficult to have gatherings without the risk of spreading the virus. Isolation is the only way to reliably stay safe, but we’ve put together a few tips for keeping your danger level to a minimum.

Gather Remotely

It’s not as intimate and you might be tired of Zoom calls from work, but getting the family together on video chat carries much lower risk than meeting in person. You can still have plenty of fun by taking activities you can do at home and using your phones and the internet to bridge the distance between you. Try these:

  • Watch parties! You can enjoy movies, television, and more by watching the same things and discussing them over the phone or on a video call.
  • Take social games to video chat. You can still play games like charades, share crosswords and participate in other traditional activities. Just be a little more creative to work within camera range.
  • Play together online. The whole family can enjoy online versions of classic board games like Monopoly, Risk, and Clue. Check the online store for your platform of choice to see what’s available.

Stay Local

It's tempting to get a change of scenery, but travel is exactly how the coronavirus gets from county to county, state to state, and country to country. Remember, if you’re traveling, there are probably other people doing the same thing. You don’t know where they came from or if they might be infected.

It’s best to stay within your own household or yard, but if you can’t, look at local parks and other nearby outdoor areas to spend your holiday. Don’t hesitate to turn around and come back later if you can’t get enough distance from other groups or people aren’t wearing masks.

Backyard Barbecue With Social Distancing and Good Hygiene

If you still feel like you have to hold an in-person party, don’t let your guard down. It's been a long time since it was safe to have close contact with people outside your household, and unfortunately, the situation hasn’t gotten better. Gatherings are still dangerous, but there are a few steps you can take to lower the risk level at least a little bit. CNN consulted experts for in-depth recommendations, but the minimum standard comes down to breaking down your event (like a barbecue) and applying CDC guidance and good hygiene to each part. Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t assume anyone is safe. People infected with coronavirus may have mild or no symptoms, so everyone should wear masks when not actively eating or drinking.
  • Outdoor environments aren't a panacea, but getting out of recycled indoor air does reduce the chance of transmitting the virus. Open areas with high airflow limit the amount of virus you may be exposed to.
  • Separate household groups by at least 6 feet. Don’t have people over if you don’t have enough space to safely distance them.
  • If your home has multiple bathrooms, designate one for guest use and make cleaning supplies available so it can be decontaminated between uses. Ideally, gatherings should not be long enough for anyone to have to use the bathroom. You should still be prepared just in case.
  • Choose one person, preferably the one with least potential exposure, to cook food and then have that person or one other serve it. Avoid buffet-style meals.
  • Stick to single-use, disposable flatware and cutlery and never touch food being served directly with your hands. If any utensils like tongs are to be shared, hand sanitizer should be placed nearby to be used before and after touching them.
  • Finally, food should always be covered when not being served.

Invite Your Pandemic Pod

One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll find is that the safest gatherings you can have are with people you know aren’t engaging in risky behavior. If you have other households of friends or family that you have already been meeting with, be careful not to add more-- and make sure they haven’t been, either.

Keep High-Risk People Home

Everyone’s getting tired of isolation, but staying home is a matter of life or death for the elderly and immunocompromised. Don’t pressure anyone with risk factors (or members of their households) to come visit if they aren’t comfortable with it.

The Take-Home

As pandemic fatigue becomes more common, it’s tempting to take more risks when connecting with friends and loved ones. There are plenty of creative ways to enjoy the holidays while being physically apart. If you feel like you absolutely must hold an in-person event, make sure to follow hygiene and social distancing standards to keep infection risk as low as possible.