Holiday gathering risk factors


While many of us are yearning to celebrate the holiday season, it’s important to understand the potential risk of spreading the coronavirus during holiday gatherings. Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses a low risk for spread, while in-person gatherings pose varying levels of risk.

These are several factors that contribute to the risk of infection or infecting others with the coronavirus at holiday celebrations. Event organizers and attendees should consider the risk of virus spread based on event size and the use of mitigation strategies as outlined in the Considerations for Events and Gatherings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Consider the following factors before attending or hosting a holiday gathering this year to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

Factors to consider before attending a holiday gathering 

Community levels of COVID-19

Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Family and friends should consider the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in their community and in the community where they plan to celebrate. Ask the host for updated community COVID-19 levels or visit the city’s health department website.

Locations attendees are traveling from

Gatherings with attendees who are traveling from multiple places pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area. Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in areas that attendees are traveling from can increase the risk of infection and spread.

Details of the gathering

Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. In addition, the more people who attend, the greater the risk of infection. Longer events also increase the risk of infection compared to shorter, smaller gatherings.

Factors to consider before hosting a holiday gathering

Size of gathering

The size of holiday gatherings should be determined based on the ability to reduce or limit contact between attendees and ensure use of proper social distancing. Host outdoors as much as possible and increase ventilation by opening windows and doors if weather permits. Consider hosting events with those from your household or community as much as possible.

Preventive measures

Gatherings with more preventive measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing, pose a lower risk. Encourage guests to bring supplies like extra masks, hand sanitizer and tissues to help keep all attendees safe. If planning holiday gatherings with those outside of your household, consider asking all guests to strictly avoid contact with people outside their households for 14 days before the gathering.

Keeping safe around food and drinks

Instead of potluck style gatherings, encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and members of their household only. Limit people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared or handled and wear a mask while preparing or serving food. Use single-use food containers, plates, utensils and condiments as much as possible. Ask guests to wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before handling or eating food.

For more information and tips, see the CDC’s tips for hosting gatherings.