In 2020, how one celebrates the holidays has become a hotly contested topic. As of November 23, the national seven-day average of daily new coronavirus infections was 172,118, according to CNBC, 11% higher than the previous week.
Americans "have a hard two or three months to get through," former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CNBC's "Squawk Box" earlier this month.
Still, some Americans are dedicated to going home and participating in some sort of festivities. If you're planning on celebrating the holidays, it's important to remember that many traditional activities are no longer safe. This includes large family dinners, says Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. "Eating together at close proximity is, sadly, a clear source of transmission," he says.
Anything involving singing, especially indoors or in a large group, also carries a higher risk of infection. This means that caroling or attending a church service might be unwise, says Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
"Singing scares me because it's a massive projection of air droplets outside of you," he says.
Don't linger at the mall, either. If you're considering doing holiday shopping in stores, be sure to make it quick and wear a mask.
This slew of "don'ts" can be disheartening, but there are also some low-cost or free seasonal activities which are also both low-risk and festive, according to experts.
Anything "outdoors, or very well-ventilated indoors, at a distance," is a good bet, Lipsitch says. One traditional festive activity that meets this criteria is going Christmas tree shopping in nature.
"Cutting down your Christmas tree would be safe," Galiatsatos says. So long as the Christmas tree farm you're visiting is not packed and you can safely distance while shopping, this should be a low-risk activity. Cutting down your own tree at a farm will cost you between $50 and $80.
You can also buy a permit to chop down a tree at a national and state park, which is usually between $5 and $20.
Gathering outdoors for long periods can be hard in the winter, when temperatures are low. The right clothes and accessories, like disposable hand warmers, can help.
"Taking a walk in an outdoor wonderland probably would be safe," Galiatsatos says.
You may be able to find such seasonal attractions at local churches or botanical gardens. For example, the Denver Botanic Gardens is hosting Blossoms of Light, a walk-through of their gardens where paths are one-way, masks and social distancing is required, and ticket reservations are timed. Tickets for adults at $15, kids are $11, and kids under 2 are free.
Near Philadelphia, you can walk through Peddler's Village, a Christmas-themed open air market known for its light displays and festive decorations. Roaming about the village is free, though specific activities might have a fee.
Look at the Covid-19 precautions each event employs and ensure you are comfortable with how the walk is being hosted.
"I would imagine going and driving by light shows is great," Galiatsatos says. "I think that's reasonable."
Botanical gardens also host these, and some have shifted their nature walks to now be a drive-thru only. For example, The Morton Arboretum outside Chicago usually hosts a walk-in event called Illumination: Tree Lights. This year, they amended the event to be a drive-thru light show that is 20 to 30 minutes long. Entrance fee for one car $39. On Christmas Eve or Christmas day it is $49.
Many cities host light shows in town squares or on main streets. In Frisco, Texas, you can drive through Christmas in the Square, a holiday light show that runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and is free.
Remember, though, this is only safe if you limit those in your car to the people in your household.
"Ice skating, if it's outdoors, would be great for the holidays with minimal people and a face mask policy," Galiatsatos says. Indoor ice skating is probably safe, too, he says, as long as social distancing and face mask requirements are enforced.
Ice rinks can be low-cost. At the Midway Plaisance Ice Rink in Chicago, an outdoor rink, admission is free and skate rentals are $7. At the Galleria Dallas, an indoor rink around the largest indoor Christmas tree in the country, admission is $12 and skate rentals are $5.
Most importantly, follow state and local guidance on the size of your group and nature of your activity, Galiatsatos says: "The number one guidance should be what the state is doing."
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