How to celebrate the holidays safely this year, according to experts

  • This winter is not going to be an ideal time for big, inclusive gatherings with lots of family and friends. 
  • Because of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends limiting holidays meals to "only people who live in your household," or, maybe just having a "small outdoor dinner" with people who live nearby.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci has no idea how, or if, he's going to get together with his loved ones this holiday season either.
  • "We haven't even begun to address it," he said, when I asked how his family was preparing for winter get-togethers. 
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Dr. Anthony Fauci has three children who live in three separate states, and he has no idea how, or if, they will all be able to get together for the holidays this year. 

"We haven't even begun to address it," he told me during a wide-ranging interview, last month. 

"I don't have any easy answers," the doctor, who has emerged as America's leading infectious disease expert during the coronavirus pandemic, said.

The question of how, or whether to get together with family and friends indoors this winter is trickier than ever, as the virus continues circulating widely across the US. Below are some of the most important public health factors to consider, and questions to ask yourself and those you care about, before you nail down any in-person holiday plans. 

Going indoors for big meals and get-togethers is inherently risky right now

Being inside for hours at a time in spaces that are not well-ventilated is a recipe for the coronavirus to spread, as scientific studies have shown time and time again. 

There have been numerous recent examples from bars, churches, homes and other indoor spaces around the world which suggest the coronavirus can remain aloft in stagnant air for "more than just a few seconds," as Fauci recently told Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Editor in Chief Howard Bauchner.

"You're talking about something that, usually indoors, can hang around a bit longer before it dissipates," Fauci said of the virus.

If you are still thinking about getting together with loved ones during the holidays this year, there are a few key questions to ask yourself while assessing the threat the coronavirus may pose to your impending get-together: 

1. What is the virus doing where I live, and where I'm going? 

A gathering in New York or Vermont right now would (generally speaking) be less risky than one in Florida or Wisconsin, because there is less virus being passed around among people in those first two states. 

If you'd have to travel to get to your dinner or celebration, think about whether you'll have to come in close contact with other people along the way. That could pose a risk to both you and whoever you're meeting up with. If you are traveling, it's important to keep a distance from others, make interactions brief, keep hands clean, and wear your mask.

Act as if both you and everyone you meet in transit may be infectious, and remain vigilant. 

"You never should abandon the public-health measures," Fauci said. "And the intensity of the public-health measures would depend on the level of infection in the community."

2. Can I get tested before I go? 

A negative coronavirus test is not a fail-safe reassurance that you are not sick, but it can be one extra precaution to take before gathering with others, especially if you think you might've been exposed to the virus recently. 

New, 15-minute rapid coronavirus tests are becoming popular screening methods in nursing homes, colleges, and other areas of high-risk. 

By the time winter rolls around, it's possible that many thousands more of those screening tests could be available.

3. Can we be outside?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the safest way to deal with indoor meals like Thanksgiving dinner this year is to share them only with people who live in your own household — in other words, those whose germs you're already exposed to on a regular basis.

But if you're in a position to accept a little extra risk (not in a high-risk category), you may want to try organizing a "small outdoor dinner" with "friends and family who live in your community," or doing other distanced outdoor activities, like apple picking, the CDC suggests.

Layer up and get out there. 

Acknowledge it may be safer to stay home this year, and connect with people in other ways 

It may be uncomfortable to acknowledge, but life is going to be different than it used to be for a while longer.

Many experts, including Fauci, expect it may take well into 2021 or even 2022 until we can gather safely in big groups for weddings, holidays, and other celebrations.

Start having hard conversations now with the people you care for most about the possibility that you might have to stay put and stay apart, depending on how serious a threat the virus is this winter.

Remain flexible, and if you're interested in getting together in-person, keep monitoring what the virus is doing locally before cementing any plans. Always privilege get-togethers outdoors where you can. 

"It's hard, it really is," Arizona-based epidemiologist Saskia Popescu recently told Insider of navigating life during the pandemic.

"It's going to take a long time for us to wrap our arms around it, and identify safe ways for you to go about your life and have companionship and friends."

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