Holiday dinners and COVID-19: Is it safe to gather?

Dr. Stanley Martin

We’ve faced down a lot of challenges this year, to say the least. And now, as COVID-19 cases are spiking across the nation and world, we’re coming up on a new hurdle: How to approach family gatherings this holiday season.

Should you gather with friends and family like usual? Limit the number of guests? Gather virtually? Cancel holiday gatherings altogether? It’s not an easy decision to make – but one you can manage if you keep safety.

No matter what you decide, the holidays will be different this year. And adjusting your usual plans may be necessary to keep yourself and your loved ones from getting sick.

Is it safe to host or attend a holiday gathering?

The holiday season is typically filled with gatherings of family and friends, parties and, for some, traveling. But traveling and gathering with anyone outside your household come with the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Holiday gatherings can and will serve as a place for COVID-19 outbreaks to occur. In fact, gatherings are part of the reason why we’re seeing a spike in cases right now.

To keep yourself and your loved ones safe this holiday season, avoid large gatherings and traveling. Instead, opt for more intimate gatherings with the people you live with.

It’s a reality that no one wants, but a necessary one as the pandemic continues.

My family and I have decided to cancel our holiday dinner with extended family this year. It’s sad, but it’s also safe. Especially when you have grandparents and other high-risk people in your family.


If you choose to host or attend a holiday gathering, follow the CDC’s guidelines for gathering to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

We’re all responsible for slowing the spread of the coronavirus. If you plan to host or attend a gathering, I recommend:

–Monitoring your symptoms and staying home (and away from others) if you’re sick

–Wearing a mask when you aren’t eating or drinking

–Keeping your distance, especially from those who don’t live in your household

–Washing your hands or using hand sanitizer

–Avoiding sharing plates, utensils or cups

And a bonus tip: Get your flu shot. Because symptoms of the flu?and?COVID-19?are similar, including fever, cough, fatigue and body aches, it will be hard to tell the difference between the two without getting tested.

You can get both viruses at the same time, which may result in serious illness. Getting a flu shot is a safe and effective way to protect yourself and others.



COVID-19 fatigue is like any fatigue – you feel tired of dealing with something for a prolonged period. We’ve all felt COVID-19 fatigue. And when we feel it, we’re likely to be less conscious of taking the necessary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But just because we’re tired of COVID-19, it doesn’t mean it’s stopped spreading. It’s not going away anytime soon. Continuing to take precautionary measures will help us keep the spread of the coronavirus under control, until we have a safe and effective vaccine.

While the holidays may be different this year, there are still (safe) ways to connect with friends and loved ones. Here are a few ideas:

— Calling or video chatting with friends and loved ones

— Sharing your holiday dinners via video chat

–Hosting a virtual holiday party

–Leaving treats or gifts on doorsteps

It’s difficult, but we will get through this together. This year is a great time to get creative and start some new holiday traditions.


Dr. Stanley Martin is director of infectious diseases at Geisinger.


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