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How to Talk to Friends and Family About Safe Holiday Gatherings

As the COVID-19 surge continues past Thanksgiving and into New Years and beyond, it’s time to consider, or reconsider, our in-person holiday plans. 

We know that gathering with people we don’t live with may spread COVID-19, and the more people we interact with at a gathering — and the longer that interaction lasts — the higher the risk of becoming infected, or infecting others.

But how do we talk to our family and friends about this as we make plans for the holidays?

Having the COVID-19 talk

Here’s the bottom line: the safest choice you can make this holiday season is not to gather in person, even outdoors, with people you don’t live with. 

But even if it’s in everyone’s best interest, it can be challenging to decline events or tell people you love “no.”

Politely decline

The Washington State Department of Health offers suggestions on how to say “no.”

Department of Health’s COVID-19 chat suggestions
Department of Health’s COVID-19 chat suggestions.

Be clear, be honest and, if you want, offer an alternative. 

Suggest a virtual gathering. This is our number one pick, and the safest and best way to help slow the spread of rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in our community. 

Tell your family the facts: Share the numbers in your county and remind them that going virtual with your holiday plans will help ensure that our local hospital and medical systems are not overwhelmed. 

If you need some ideas on how to host a virtual gathering, see the Department of Health’s new takes on old traditions.

Make it nuanced

It’s not always a simple “yes” or “no” when it comes to family, so do some investigative work. Find out if the gathering is outdoors, how many people will be there and if everyone will be wearing masks.

Be clear about your boundaries and set expectations about what you need to feel comfortable. Maybe even share this checklist with the host. 

Having the COVID-19 chat can be tough, but it will keep your loved ones safe and help control the spread of COVID-19.

Gathering guidelines

If you had “the talk” and do decide to gather with people from outside your household, there’s always a risk of spreading COVID-19 infection, but there are also ways to mitigate that risk.

Here’s what you need to know.

The motto is: fewer, shorter and smaller gatherings. 

Limit your guest list (the recommendation is five or fewer people from outside your household), decide to hold and attend less gatherings than you usually would and limit those gatherings (or how long you stay) to two hours or less. 

Choose an outdoor space where everyone can stay 6 feet apart and follow the safety checklist, which outlines steps to take before, during and after the gathering to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Share Safer Gatherings

We know that our actions (and our conversations) make a difference in slowing community spread. 

You can do your part by reconsidering your in-person gatherings and sharing the Washington State Department of Health’s Safer Gatherings Checklist with your friends and family to help everyone stay safe this year.

More safety habits from our experts:

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