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With the holidays fast approaching, many people are wondering if it is possible to safely celebrate during a pandemic. Should you visit relatives or have family and friends over for Thanksgiving? What about planning for Christmas, Hanukkah or other celebrations?

Experts agree that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may mean that your typical holiday gathering will look different this year.

“Expanding your circle of people during the COVID-19 pandemic increases your risk of exposure,” says Amanda Valyko, director of infection prevention & epidemiology at Michigan Medicine. She and other experts recommend against traveling, especially to communities that are seeing increases in cases of COVID-19.

And unfortunately, taking a test before traveling isn’t a guarantee of safety. “It is possible to have been exposed, but not yet shedding virus. A negative test could give a false sense of security and lead to COVID-19 exposures,” adds Valyko.

So what can you do to safely acknowledge the holidays, especially during a tough year?

Coming together (at a distance)

Limit your gatherings to those in your immediate household, if possible. “You can still have your favorite aunt make the pies and then divvy them up between households. Or one person could provide holiday to-go plates,” says Sheria Robinson-Lane, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor in the department of systems, populations and leadership at the U-M School of Nursing.

If you do choose to get together, limit the size of your groups and ensure people wear masks and maintain a distance of at least six feet.

“Make sure there is plenty of space to maintain distance and keep some fresh air circulating by keeping a window open. If your mouth or nose are visible, you are potentially spreading more germs than if it were covered,” says Robinson-Lane. She and Valyko suggest gathering outdoors instead, weather permitting.

College students contemplating a trip home should be careful. “If you have students returning from college that have not been strictly self-isolating in the two weeks before the holiday, I would highly suggest they keep a mask on indoors when around others and have their meal separate,” adds Robinson-Lane.

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