How to plan for a safe holiday during COVID-19

When you think about the holidays, traditions like family gatherings, reindeer-shaped cookies, ice skating, and caroling may come to mind. Some of these festivities may look different this year, but you deserve the best possible holidays regardless of how, where, or with whom you get to celebrate.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still being a prominent health and safety concern for everyone, there are a number of things you should keep in mind as you hash out your plans for the holiday season. What better way to show you care than to organize the best virtual holiday party, plan the safest in-person gathering, or send the most thoughtful care package to the ones you love this season?

Here are 5 exciting ways to plan for the holidays safely during the COVID-19 pandemic:

How to host a virtual holiday party

Lean into the unconventionality of this holiday season and recreate a virtual experience similar to the one you would normally host in person. Prepare to host your favorite holiday party by sending physical invitations, setting a dress code, and encouraging guests to add their favorite holiday tunes to a collaborative playlist. If you’re wanting to go all out for the kids of the family (or for the adults, we don’t judge), hire your favorite Santa Claus look-alike to join the video call “from the North Pole.” Cue the reindeer Zoom backgrounds and virtual Santa hats!

Lastly, if your usual holiday plans include a game or group activity like baking cookies, send your guests a holiday care package with the recipe, instructions, and materials before the virtual event. During the video call, challenge them to a bake-off or holiday crafting session.

The opportunities to recreate your favorite holiday traditions (or make new ones!) in a virtual format are endless.

How to safely host a holiday gathering

If you choose to host guests for the holidays, asking both short- and longer-term visitors to get tested for COVID-19 is the best way to keep everyone safe. They should wait until they have a negative result before their visit—especially if they are traveling from another area or state.

Keep in mind the CDC estimates that up to 40% of people infected with COVID-19 don’t exhibit symptoms, so temperature checks and hand sanitizers are not enough to keep your guests safe. Upon their arrival, provide your guests with extra masks and encourage everyone to wash their hands frequently.

For dinner parties, consider planning activities that don’t require your guests to be in close proximity. Organize a mask decorating contest, a snowball toss, or a touchless spin-off of a white elephant gift exchange. Ask your guests to bring all of their own food and drinks—or as we like to call it BYOE (bring your own everything). This may sound like the opposite of the “share and give” style of most holiday traditions, but minimizing shared utensils, commonly touched surfaces, and crowded areas where food is served may limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. Plus, what better way to let everyone show off their cooking skills than to task them with preparing the most mouthwatering plate?

Lastly, hosting an outdoor event is safer than indoors because of the way the virus is spread—through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, or talks. If you’re not able to host outdoors (which may be more difficult considering the cooler weather), host in a well-ventilated area where social distancing is possible.

How to safely attend a holiday party

Before the event, ask the host what measures they are taking to ensure their guests are preventing the spread of COVID-19 before, during, and after the gathering—and communicate your concerns and boundaries. All traveling guests who live or work in an area where coronavirus has been reported should consider getting tested for COVID-19 and wait for a negative result before coming into contact with others to keep the gathering as safe as possible.

Collaborate with the host to plan the most engaging socially distant activities and games (see above for our favorites), and follow the same guidelines as you would at any other gathering—wear a mask, wash your hands often, and follow social distancing guidelines. After the celebration, err on the side of caution and stay home as much as possible. If you are notified that you were in close contact with someone who was infected with COVID-19, follow these CDC recommended guidelines, which include getting tested yourself and quarantining.

How to safely travel for the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic

If you do plan to hit the road or brave the skies for the holidays, you should know the risks.

“Remember, it only takes one person to infect a crowd, especially if you’re in close quarters,” said Dr. Frank Ong, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at Everlywell. “To truly minimize the risk of infecting others (or being infected), I recommend that every person in a traveling party gets tested for COVID-19. For the days leading up to your trip, you should err on the side of caution until you receive a negative result. Not only will it help keep you and your traveling party stay safe, it will also give you much more peace of mind to allow everyone to fully enjoy the trip.”

Although traveling by car is the safest way to limit your exposure to other travelers outside of your “quaranteam,” a new Harvard study shows that being aboard an airplane actually poses a very small risk of transmission. According to the study, the aggressive, high-quality air filtration on airplanes almost immediately disperses the air particles carrying the infection—this combined with cabin-wide mask-wearing minimizes the risk of in-flight transmission. If you plan to fly in an airplane, wear a mask for the duration of your travels (in-flight, in the security line, and throughout the airport), wash your hands frequently, and follow local social distancing guidelines.

Consider avoiding travel to and from high-risk areas or “hotspots.” In addition to the CDC’s travel recommendations, always check local and state regulations—some states may have a required quarantine period in place for those visiting the area. If you plan to stay in a hotel or house rental take the necessary steps to ensure the safest possible stay. Dr. Ong recommends staying away from common areas like hotel restaurants or dining rooms, pools, gyms, hot tubs, saunas, and entertainment rooms, unless social distancing protocols are being followed.

How to still give back this holiday season

Just because the holidays may be celebrated differently this year doesn’t mean you have to give up giving back. If your favorite holiday traditions involve supporting your community, consider organizing a virtual volunteering event or donation drive. Host a virtual reading club or meet-and-greet with a Zoom Santa for local children. Challenge your friends and family to collect canned goods, books, toys, and gifts and drop them off at their local food banks or homeless shelters.

Keep in mind that some organizations and businesses may have restricted gifting guidelines in place, so be sure to call ahead to coordinate a safe drop-off with mask-wearing and social distancing. If physical gifts, baked goods, or thank you cards are not accepted for safety reasons, consider sending video messages to thank your community’s healthcare and essential workers.

Prioritize your health and safety, and send care to your loved ones no matter where or how you’re celebrating this year. When it comes to planning for the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic, plan ahead, know the risks, and make the best possible decisions to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. And of course, be creative and have fun.


1. COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed October 21, 2020

2. How to Protect Yourself & Others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed October 21, 2020.

3. CDC - State and Territorial Health Departments - STLT Gateway. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed October 21, 2020.

4. CDC COVID Data Tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed October 21, 2020.

5. COVID-19 Traveler's Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed October 21, 2020.

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