The holiday season is upon us and, now more than ever, many of us are wishing we could spend a little time with our loved ones.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic still present and infection rates increasing, how safe is it to gather with friends or family for a holiday get-together?
“The challenge is that everything we do that brings us in contact with people we don’t otherwise see, particularly indoors and particularly without masks, increases the chances of someone who has the virus giving it to someone who doesn’t,” says Dr. Jared Baeten, an infectious disease specialist at Harborview Medical Center.
In other words, to keep each other safe, our holiday plans need to look a little different this year. Here’s how to adapt yours to help prevent spreading the virus.
What is a superspreader event?
It’s likely you’ve heard the term “superspreader” thrown around in the news to describe everything from weddings to bus rides to funerals.
“A superspreading event isn’t really about a single person, it’s about setting up the context for a spreading to occur,” Baeten explains.
This is because if you are highly infectious (which can occur whether or not you have symptoms) but you stay home, then you’re not spreading the virus to anyone else. However, if you instead attend a get-together with some friends, then that hangout could become a hotbed for infection.
“A superspreader event occurs when someone who is at a moment when they’re quite infectious enters into a group of people who are able to receive the virus,” Baeten says.
From there, the people who are infected can go on to infect others, who infect others, until — well, you get the idea.
How can you prevent your holidays from becoming a superspreader event?
We’ll tell it to you straight: Thanksgiving and other holidays, which are often spent inside while talking and eating, are a near perfect set up for superspreading.
“No public health person wants to be a killjoy on this, but it’s perfectly clear that if you bring people together who aren’t usually together, that’s how transmission happens,” Baeten says.
While the science is clear that it is not recommended to bring people together from different households, there are some cases where this can’t be avoided. If a college student has to come home over break or you are determined to have a small gathering, here are some ways to mitigate the risks and prevent spread.
Before the event
The single biggest thing you can do to keep your loved ones safe actually occurs before you see them.
“You can reduce risk by effectively quarantining yourself before you come into contact with other people,” Baeten says.