Fall is here, which means that the holiday season is upon us. Should we be gathering around the table with friends and family during a pandemic or carrying out holiday traditions via Zoom?
As if the holidays aren’t complicated enough during a regular year, now we have a pandemic to contend with as we try to navigate how and whether to safely see our friends and family over the holidays.
For many Americans, this holiday season will mark the first time they plan to take a trip away from home in months. When travel booking site Hopper recently polled 850 people about whether they’re planning to travel for the holidays this year, 55 percent said it’ll be their first time traveling since the start of the pandemic.
Indeed, despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, people are planning to travel this holiday season. Flight- and hotel-booking site Qtrip recently questioned more than 2,000 people about their travel intentions for the holidays, and 33 percent said they will be flying over the holidays, 40 percent said they were still undecided, and 28 percent said they would not be traveling over the holidays.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week issued its advice for holiday travel and gatherings. The agency is reminding everyone that traveling does increase transmission risk for COVID-19, and that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”
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Furthermore, would-be holiday travelers should also make sure that they are up to date on the latest travel restrictions, whether they are traveling domestically and plan to cross state lines (numerous states have quarantine or COVID-19 testing orders in place) or are traveling abroad either to or from the United States (international travel is still highly restricted).
Nevertheless, for those who are determined to safely see their loved ones this year, the CDC does offer some measures to consider.
The CDC’s holiday travel advice
For holiday travel, the CDC refers to its existing travel advice, which states that “regardless of where you traveled or what you did during your trip” after your trip you should:
- Stay at least six feet from other people who aren’t from your household—both indoors and outdoors.
- Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when you’re in public.
- Wash your hands often and/or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol).
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Monitor your health and look for symptoms of COVID-19—take your temperature if you feel sick.
The one new piece of advice for the holiday season: Get a flu shot.
The agency notes that travelers may have been exposed to COVID-19 during their journey and not realize it. “You may feel well and not have any symptoms, but you can be contagious without symptoms and spread the virus to others,” the CDC states. It reminds travelers that they pose a risk to their family, friends, and community for 14 days after they were exposed to the virus.
For travelers coming from an area experiencing high levels of COVID-19 spread, or who have been in crowds (for example, at airports, in train stations, or on a cruise ship), the agency recommends that in addition to the post-travel precautions listed above, that for 14 days after their trip they should:
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Avoid contact with those at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
- Consider getting tested for COVID-19.
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Those considering testing for coronavirus before and/or following their travels to minimize the risk to others should look into the availability of testing in the area they plan to travel to—and recognize that diagnostic tests for COVID-19 can also result in false negatives. Individuals can test negative even though they are infectious. A June study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that testing people for COVID-19 too early in the course of the infection is likely to result in a false negative test.
CDC’s advice for holiday gatherings
When it comes to holiday get-togethers, events, and celebrations, the CDC divides the options into lower-risk, moderate-risk, and higher-risk activities. Here is a breakdown of some of the agency’s recommendations:
- A small dinner with members of your household
- Preparing foods or treats for family members and neighbors and delivering them without contact
- A virtual gathering with friends and family
- A small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live nearby
- Visiting pumpkin patches or farms where hand sanitizer and mask use are encouraged and enforced, and social distancing is maintained
- Going shopping in crowded stores
- Attending crowded events
- Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household
Not your typical holiday season
Whatever everyone decides to do, the holiday season is likely going to look very different this year.
“With remote work, school, and more flexible schedules than usual due to COVID-19, travelers may consider longer stays over the holiday weeks and mixing work and play to take advantage of work from anywhere policies,” stated Hopper in its survey. More than half of those surveyed (51 percent) said they are considering an extended stay during the holidays this year.
For those who plan to travel this holiday season, Hopper recommends preparing well in advance by researching the destination and keeping an eye on coronavirus transmission rates, communicating early and frequently with those you plan to visit (and having some backup plans in case the situation changes), and taking advantage of flexible airline and hotel cancellation and change policies to accommodate potentially fluctuating plans.