Low-cost alternatives to seeing Santa and other higher-risk holiday activities

"Eating together at close proximity is, sadly, a clear source of transmission"

Santa Claus speaks with visitors from behind a Plexiglas barrier at the Photos with Santa experience at Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree, Colorado on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.
David Williams | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As the number of reported coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States, Americans are wrestling with how to celebrate the holidays. Hospitalizations hit a record high in 21 states, but more than 1 million Americans took flights around Thanksgiving, according to CNBC.

Covid-19 spreads through airborne particles, meaning that staying safe this season is less about what you are touching and more about who you are around and in what circumstances. "Could this spread through surfaces? Yes, that's plausible," says Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. "But by far this is spread through the air."

If you're planning on celebrating the holidays, some traditional activities can still be safe, like cutting down a Christmas tree or a drive-thru light show, but some are risky, health experts say. Luckily, they're able to suggest safer, and still affordable, alternatives.

Enjoy virtual visits with Santa instead of sitting on his lap

"In the traditional way we've done it, where you go and sit on the lap, I do not think it's safe," Galiatsatos says.

If the Santa you want your child to visit is behind plexiglass and your child is wearing a mask, though, he says, it could be safe.

You can also schedule a virtual Santa visit with services like JingleRing, which offers personalized virtual meetings with Santa and pricing starts at $25. Macy's Santaland is also hosting free tours of the North Pole where kids can have an "open-ended prerecorded" conversation with Santa and take a selfie with him, also free of cost.

Cook a small dinner instead of hosting a Christmas party

Food is undoubtedly one of the best parts of the holiday season. This year, however, you should put the party on hold, says Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. "Eating together at close proximity is, sadly, a clear source of transmission," he says.

Save your money and make a smaller spread for your quarantine pod, as opposed to hosting a gathering for extended family, experts urge, and then catch up with your family by Zoom or Google meeting.

Sending holiday cards or bringing your neighbors cookies are safe, festive activities. Just take the normal hygienic measure you would take anyways, Galiatsatos says: "Bring it in a container and no sneezing on it."

Eating together at close proximity is, sadly, a clear source of transmission.
Marc Lipsitch
professor of epidemiology, Harvard University

Score online deals instead of going to the mall

Leisurely shopping, as you would during previous holidays seasons, is high risk. The Centers for Disease Control recommends shoppers don't visit packed malls or stand in long lines.

"To get truly infected you need to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes with someone infected," Galiatsatos says, or to spend one minute with 15 infected people. But, if you must go to the mall, treat it like a quick grocery run. Wear a mask and shop quickly to reduce your risk of infection.

To avoid risk, shop online instead. Not only is it safer, you might save money as many retailers are offering deep discounts online only, especially during Cyber Week.

For example, Target is offering online-only deals all week as part of their Cyber Week promotion. Today, you can get 30% off cold weather boots and jackets and tomorrow you can get 40% off an HP 27" monitor and women's sweaters and shoes. Walmart is also offering online-only deals this week. For example, Beats Studio3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones with Apple W1 Headphone Chip are discounted from $289 to $149. And Madden NFL 21 for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X is discounted from $59 to $28.

Try virtual caroling instead of in-person caroling

Anything involving singing, especially indoors or in a large group, carries a higher risk of infection. This means that caroling might be unwise, Galiatsatos says: "Singing scares me because it's a massive projection of air droplets outside of you."

Instead, you can try virtual caroling for charity. The Heart Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital is sending out caroling kits and asking participants to hold caroling fundraisers via Zoom. All money raised will go to the Heart Center.

Check out virtual church instead of in-person service

Church gatherings or worship ceremonies are potentially high risk, Galiatsatos says, in part because so many church services involve singing. "Praying and singing are part of the congregations, but those are vocal maneuvers that really project droplets pretty far, well beyond 6 feet," he says. "Congregations have to be distanced 20-plus feet away."

For a safer worship experience, find a virtual service using search engines like ChurchFinder.com where you can access sermon archives as well as live services.

Remember, Covid-19 spreads through airborne particles, so limiting who you are around and for how long can better reduce the risk of contracting the virus than obsessively disinfecting your hands and surfaces.

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