Families have been torn apart by the pandemic. They’ve been unable to gather in person for most of the year. And they’re DESPERATE for a chance to connect… especially at Christmas time.
I don’t blame them. I feel the exact same way.
I’d do just about anything for an opportunity to meet in person with my distant loved ones for the holidays. I desperately want to gather around the table for our traditional family feast and share in those big, warm hugs that always mark the occasion.
So everyone’s wondering, is there a safe way to do it for Christmas? Can we get tested for the coronavirus, then meet in person?
Well, to be honest, the answer isn’t as simple as it might appear.
What you need to know BEFORE making Christmas plans
There are plenty of people who think they’ve ALREADY come up with a foolproof plan for having a holiday party without risking spreading the virus. I’ve overheard their conversations and seen countless posts on the subject online.
They all go a little something like this…
Everyone gets tested for the coronavirus days before the event. If everyone is negative, they all go into self-quarantine. Then they meet up for a holiday feast, complete with those hugs.
But don’t make those Christmas party plans just yet. I hate to be a wet blanket, but there are some pretty significant flaws with this idea.
First, there are false negatives. Some people are cleared by the test who are actually carrying the coronavirus. Depending on the test and the specifics of the situation, false-negative rates can be as low as just 2 percent but as high as 38 percent.
Besides, the coronavirus has an incubation period of up to 14 days. You could test negative during that “pre-symptomatic” period but still spread the virus to those around you. In fact, the two days BEFORE symptoms may be when people are MOST infectious.
The CDC estimates that half of all coronavirus infections are spread by people in that period just before symptoms.
Second, even an accurate negative test is only valid at the moment you get it. All bets are off after that. So someone who tests negative on Monday for COVID-19 could have the infection show up on Tuesday.
How to avoid a holiday horror show
But the risks don’t end there. There’s a third scenario that could turn your family holiday into a horror show. Even if everyone tests negative, goes into self-quarantine, travels only by car with immediate family, and arrives at the Christmas gathering, there’s another problem.
I’ll call it the “weakest link” situation. Any group of people will almost always have someone who wasn’t quite as strict and careful as the rest. They don’t mean any harm, of course. They just tend to bend the rules a bit more than the rest of us.
And that’s all it takes to spread the coronavirus infection. One person who went into a store, visited a doctor, or had someone in their home, which exposed them to the virus.
So the unvarnished truth is that for now, the safest way to celebrate Christmas or any other holiday is with members of your own immediate household. Let your loved ones join remotely via video chat using the ones built into your phones or Zoom.
If you have friends and family nearby, dropping a gift off at the door and waving through a window will keep you safe and still get you a little facetime. Or saying hi outside with masks and social distancing (no hugs!) is another lower-risk option. And of course, be sure to check and follow the latest advisories and guidance from your doctor’s office and local public health officials.
Remember, this is just temporary. By the time the holidays’ roll around again, things should be mostly back to normal. And making the sacrifice this Christmas could give us, and our loved ones, a much better chance of being around for the next ones.