Keeping your Christmas season safe from COVID-19

By Kirk Wessler OSF Healthcare

Stay safe from COVID-19 by doing online shopping as much as possible to finish off your holiday gift buying. (Photo courtesy of OSF Healthcare)

The Christmas holiday is more than just one day. It’s an entire season that seems to start earlier every year so that we have more time to do more. More shopping. More parties. More gifts. More celebrating.

With the COVID-19 pandemic in a full rage, however, we don’t need more of those things. We need more caution.

The safest thing you can do this Christmas season is stay home. Limit in-person contacts during holiday preparations and celebrations to the people in your household. Even there, wash your hands regularly and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

Here are some other tips to stay safe during the Christmas season.

Avoid crowds, shop online

You might already do most of your shopping from home, using the internet. But maybe you prefer to see an item with your own eyes before you purchase it. Melinda Cooling, vice president of advanced practice for OSF HealthCare, offers some advice for limiting your exposure to the novel coronavirus while shopping.

“You want to spend as little time in public as possible, so make a list before you go out, to help with efficiency,” she said. “Take advantage of non-peak times. If you’re older, take advantage of times that are supported for high-risk persons. Be efficient when moving through the store. Be focused, get what you need and move on.”

Communities are strongly urged to forego traditions like caroling or choral concerts this holiday season to help fight the spread of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of

Also, wash your hands frequently, or at least use hand sanitizer. Maintain physical distance of at least six feet from other shoppers.

“And if the store uses arrows in the aisles, abide by them.”

Let’s not go a caroling

Singing Christmas carols is a widely practiced tradition. But singing causes you to spew more of those tiny droplets further distances — which makes singing a great way to spread the virus. So, this is probably not the year to gather around the piano and belt out your favorites.

“Singing is not advised, due to the exposure it can cause,” Melinda said. “If you want to sing carols, take your song outside. And you have to wear masks and distance yourselves from each other.”

Worship with fewer people

Christmas is a holiday on which even people who rarely go to church decide to go to church.

“If you’re going to church, try to pick a time when fewer people will be there. That will help you stay physically distanced,” Melinda said. “And again, if you are going to church, practice good hand-washing and wear a mask.”

Many places of worship are streaming their services online. You can either watch live or download the service for viewing at a convenient time. Check the church’s website for more information.

Rethink your traditional gift exchange

One safe way for churches to still hold holiday services is to conduct them outdoors — weather permitting — with drive-thru options as St. Joseph Church in Libertyville recently did for a regular Sunday Mass. (Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago)

One Christmas party staple — whether it’s a gathering of family, friends or co-workers — is the gift exchange. Gifts are handed out, then the opened items are sometimes passed about the room for everyone to get a closer look.

Be careful. The amount of time the virus lives on a surface varies with the type of surface.

“This is not the year to share. Avoid the sharing and passing, especially if you have little kids,” Melinda said. “Getting them to keep their hands off their face and mouth is harder than for adults.”

Melinda suggested putting one person in charge of distributing the gifts to everyone. That person should wear a mask. And again: “Wash your hands before and after the gift exchange.”

Think small, short and sweet

If for some reason you can’t avoid having people outside your household visit for dinner — or if you must travel to someone else’s home — take additional precautions.

  • Limit the size of your party, and cut down the length of time everyone is together. “The shorter duration you’re together poses less risk,” Melinda said.
  • If feasible, open doors and windows to help circulate the air.
  • For food, Melinda said, “Think single units instead of a common serving bowl. I would have just one person serving, and that person should wear a mask and gloves. If people serve themselves, don’t let them use the same serving spoon.”
  • And when it comes to eating and drinking, use disposable utensils, plates and cups.

Wearing masks can keep people safe from COVID-19 as they gather with loved ones to celebrate the holidays. (Photo courtesy of OSF Healthcare)

Always remember these tips

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health websites also provide extensive safety tips and guidelines for gatherings. These include:

  • Take your temperature before you gather. If you are running a fever or feel ill, stay home. If your guests aren’t feeling well, tell them to stay home. If anyone in your planned gathering thinks they might have been exposed to the virus, stay home.
  • Clean surfaces and routinely wipe them with disinfectants, especially in high-traffic areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Consider where you have been. If in the past 14 days you encountered a high-risk situation, or if you suspect you have been exposed to someone who might have COVID-19, stay home — or send regrets to your host.
  • If you are traveling, know where you are going and what the infection risks are there. Check local guidelines regarding exposure to the virus and quarantining.
  • Always be mindful of your surroundings, and have hand sanitizer ready to use as needed.