COVID-19 and festive season celebrations – Tips for socialising safely | 8 min read

The festive season is fast approaching, and after a year of stress and lockdowns, gathering with friends and family is certainly something many are looking forward to.  While the holidays will likely look different in 2020, there are ways to increase the safety of yourself and others during celebrations, whether you are a host or a guest.

The below guidance is meant to supplement, not replace, the prevailing regulations in your area at the time.  Please make sure you are aware of and follow the law at all times. These recommendations do not constitute medical advice, and you are encouraged to consult your medical professional, the NICD (https://www.nicd.ac.za/diseases-a-z-index/covid-19/) and COVID-19 Resource Portal (https://sacoronavirus.co.za/) for the latest official guidelines.

Assess the level of risk involved

Whether you are thinking of attending or hosting an event, it is important to first assess the level of risk involved.  If you are uncomfortable, rather cancel, postpone or don’t attend.  Ask the following questions:  

  • What are the current levels of COVID-19? Check both the total number and rate of growth of COVID-19 cases in your community, in the area where the event will be held and in those where guests are coming from.  The higher the number of cases and/or growth rate, the greater the risk to those attending.
  • Where is the event being held? Outdoor gatherings are the safest.  If weather permits, celebrate in your garden, in parks, etc.  If you have to gather indoors, space at least 2 meters apart, wear masks and open as many windows and doors as possible in order to maximize ventilation.  Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose the greatest risk, even if masks are used.
  • How long is the event? Longer gatherings pose a greater risk than shorter gatherings. Keep your event short.
  • How many people will attend? The greater the number of guests, the higher the risk. Keep the size of the group small enough that there is sufficient room for guests from different households to stay at least 2 meters apart at all times.  It’s safest to only gather with people who live in your household.
  • Are any guests travelling? Spending time in airports, train stations, bus stations and petrol stations could expose guests to COVID-19.
  • Do the hosts have adequate safety measures in place, and do guests follow them? Gatherings where hosts do not have adequate safety measures in place and/or where guests don’t follow them, pose a greater risk. Is social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene possible and enforced?  Remember that the excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to more risky behaviours.


Who should avoid in-person gatherings?

You should not travel, host or attend an in-person event if you or anyone in your household:

  • Have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and hasn’t yet met the criteria for de-isolation.
  • Have symptoms of COVID-19 and/or is waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test. Remember that the symptoms of COVID-19 may be mild and non-specific, especially early on.  Be cautious of symptoms such as fatigue, body pains or even diarrhoea, as well as sore throat, changes in your sense of smell or taste, cough, fever or chills or shortness of breath.
  • May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

If you or someone you live with or work with is at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19, try and avoid in-person events with people outside of your household.

Safety tips for hosts and guests at in-person gatherings

Prior to the gathering
If the gathering involves people from different households, it’s recommended that attendees consider avoiding contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the event.

The host should consider cleaning all surfaces with an appropriate solution to help protect guests. The host can provide, or guests can bring, supplies to the event to promote safety, such as extra masks, hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol and tissues.  Ask each guest to bring a dry, breathable bag for mask storage between uses.  Remember to sanitize your hands before and after taking off and putting on your mask.  Poorly fitted masks and visors or face shields alone are not adequately protective.

Anyone who feels even slightly unwell prior to the event should rather not attend. Having a negative test prior to an event should not be used as a basis for neglecting other precautionary measures at the gathering. A negative test does not necessarily exclude active infection, and an individual could be in their incubation period and become infectious between the time of the test and the event itself. In addition, prior infection and/or the presence of antibodies should not provide a false of security and all standard precautions should still be practiced.

During the celebration

  • Maintain a safe distance. Avoid closely gathering around one table.  Instead, provide multiple tables or seating areas outside so that people from different households can be at least 2 meters apart.  Also consider assigned seating, where each person only uses a specific seat for the duration of the event.  Avoid being in busy eating areas and using the restroom at high-traffic times.  Instead of hugging or shaking hands, wave or verbally greet others. If you’re planning activities for adults or kids, consider options that allow for social distancing, such as playing frisbee.  Many creative games and activities can be found online from reputable sources.
  • Wear a mask. Keep masks on when you are around people who don’t live in your household, except when eating or drinking.  Avoid singing, chanting or shouting, especially when indoors, not wearing a mask and/or within 2 meters of others.  Be careful about where you place your mask when not in use.  Guests can bring a breathable paper bag for storage when not fitted.  Practice hand hygiene before and after putting on and taking off your mask.
  • Encourage hygiene. Make sure everyone washes hands or uses hand sanitizer before and after preparing, serving and eating food.  If you are hosting a gathering, provide plenty of soap and single-use towels or paper towels in the kitchen and bathroom and have sanitizer available in regular places.  Good respiratory hygiene in terms of appropriate cough and sneeze etiquette is also important.
  • Maintain safety around food and drinks. Encourage guests to bring their own food and drinks, for themselves and members of their household only.  Limit people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared.  If that’s not possible, avoid self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets or drink stations.  Consider having one person serve all of the food and sharable items, such as salad dressing or condiments, or provide single servings of food and condiments.  Wear a mask if you’re preparing or serving food to people outside of your household.  You might consider having guests use disposable plates, utensils and cups.
  • Limit contact with shared surfaces and items. Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and shared items between uses.  Provide or use touchless garbage cans, if available.  Wear gloves when disposing of trash.  Saliva can carry very high concentrations of the virus that causes COVID-19 and the sharing of any items which are placed in the mouth pose a significant risk.  Pets should ideally not interact with people outside of their household.


Following the celebration

The host should keep a list of guests and their contact information for contact tracing if required after the event.

Consider wiping down surfaces with an appropriate cleaning solution after the quests have left.  Wash and disinfect any reusable items, such as cloth napkins and tablecloths, after the event.  Non-disposable food service items should be handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.

If you feel that you were in close contact with many people from different households take extra precautions for 14 days.  Stay at home as much as possible and avoid being around people at increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19.

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 or you test positive for COVID-19, immediately contact the host and other guests who attended the event.  This can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring that others get tested or stay home and away from others, if needed.

Consider downloading and using the SA COVID-19 alert app which will help notify you if you have potentially been in contact with someone who has tested positive. 

Think safety and enjoyment

COVID-19 poses a risk to health which should not be under-estimated.  At the same time, well-being also includes doing things that make life worth living.  Make thoughtful choices about ways to bring a sense of normalcy and joy to your life during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The holidays will involve extra planning this year.  But taking safety precautions can allow you, your family and friends to lower the risk of COVID-19 while gathering this festive season.

This virus is not the only danger during this time and behaviours such as safe driving and responsible alcohol use are also important in keeping you, your family members and fellow South Africans safe.


Sources
:

Mayo Clinic
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/covid-19-holiday-safety-tips/art-20503363

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/considerations-for-events-gatherings.html

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