The Holidays Will Look Different This Year

The Holidays Will Look Different This Year

Van Do-Reynoso, MPH, PhD, Director, Public Health Department, Santa Barbara County

If you’re thinking about which holiday plans are best for you and your family regarding gatherings, you are not alone.  As we begin planning for Thanksgiving and the holiday season, many are weighing their options and risks at this time during the worldwide pandemic.

Experts warn coronavirus cases will spike if people travel out of town and celebrate indoors, causing many to stop and think about their level of risk and tolerance for chance of infection. 

Thanksgiving is a time when many families travel long distances to celebrate together.  This year will have to be different. Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.  State guidance on travel can be found here and CDC guidance on travel can be found here. If people must travel, it is important to know the risks involved.

Please understand that we do not recommend to travel during the pandemic.

If you are unsure of what is best for you, we ask you to honestly assess your level of risk and for the chance of infection while knowing there are many unknowns surrounding the virus.  Factors like the infection rates in our community and the one you’d like to travel to; how many people will be present; and whether the celebration will be held indoors or outside should be considered.

These decisions are even more consequential for people over 65 or those with underlying health conditions, who face greater risk for poor outcomes should they contract the coronavirus.

The current Santa Barbara County Health Officer order does not allow for private gatherings.  This means gatherings outside of your immediate household are not allowed at this time.  This order remains in place as there remains substantial spread of the disease in Santa Barbara County and we are continuing to see increasing cases throughout the state and nationwide.   

While gathering with those outside of your home is prohibited in Santa Barbara County, there is recognition that some may have plans for travel to visit family elsewhere.

 Planning and communication for families and friends when planning to travel this holiday season is critical. 

We discourage any travel at this time because it is known to significantly increase infections and leads to spreading the virus across regions, States and Countries.

Here are some tips for planning for your holiday:

  • Evaluate your risk for contracting the virus.
  • Consider a virtual holiday meal where you connect with loved ones by video chat.
  • Establish ground rules for in-person family gatherings that everyone agrees to follow, such as wearing a mask, getting tested prior to gathering and remaining six feet apart and remaining outside
  • Honestly assess any risks posed by various methods of travel, such as traveling on an airplane train or bus.
  • Be open and transparent with family and friends about concerns, illnesses, and expectations.