By Laurie Brentlinger, Assistant Vice President of Infection Control and Prevention, Nuvance Health
- It’s important to consider COVID-19 safety as you make plans to ring in 2021.
- Decision-making regarding where and how to celebrate New Year’s should be based on the risk factors of the activity and comfort level of each participant.
- The best approach is to discuss your plans with family and friends in advance so you can assess the level of risk and determine whether it’s safe for you and members of your household to participate.
We all know that 2020 was a year full of unexpected challenges, hardships, and stress because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, New Year’s Day will be much more than the first day of the new calendar year; it will mark the beginning of a year that ideally brings new life adventures and positive health changes, which is definitely worth celebrating.
However, as you make plans to ring in 2021, please consider COVID-19 safety. Although it may still be possible to continue some of your favorite New Year’s traditions during the pandemic, you and your family and friends may need to adjust your usual plans to ensure that everyone can participate safely. Here are health questions to help you figure out the level of risk your New Year’s celebrations may have during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where and how are you celebrating?
Wearing a mask, practicing proper hand hygiene, and maintaining social distancing reduces your chances of COVID-19 infection. When it comes to the risks of COVID-19 transmission, research has shown that indoor settings are riskier than outdoor environments; gathering in large groups is riskier than in small groups, and prolonged close contact is riskier than brief contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines close contact as being within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
Based on the previous criteria, it’s important to consider where and how you’re celebrating and assess your level of risk. Although some people choose to celebrate with a quiet family night in, others ring in the New Year at parties or outdoor community “ball drop” events. A crowded indoor event with shared food and beverages — even if it’s at someone’s house — would be riskier than an outdoor gathering that did not include shared food or beverages and allowed for social distancing.
Even if you are outside, it’s important to wear your mask. If COVID-19 infection rates are high in your community — or if participants are traveling from other areas that have high COVID-19 infection rates — it could also increase the level of risk for your New Year’s event.
Here are specific questions you can ask yourself to determine the level of risk of your New Year’s celebration:
- Will the event be held indoors or outdoors?
- How many people will be at the event?
- Will participants be willing/able to wear masks?
- Will participants be willing/able to practice social distancing?
- Will participants be willing/able to practice proper hand hygiene?
- Will the visit be brief or prolonged?
- Will the event include shared food or beverages?
- Will participants be traveling to or from areas that are experiencing high COVID-19 infection rates?
- Will the event follow public health guidelines for gathering size limits?
Will alcohol be served?
New Year’s Eve celebrations are sometimes associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and alcohol’s effects on behavior can be especially pronounced if someone consumes more than one or two alcoholic drinks.
Alcohol affects chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters, lowering inhibitions and changing the way people act, feel, and think. When people consume alcohol, these inhibition-lowering effects could make them less likely to follow public health recommendations for social distancing, washing hands, and wearing a mask.
Even if you’re attending a family New Year’s celebration, the presence of alcohol could increase the COVID-19 risk level. Celebrating the New Year at a bar or club would be much riskier than celebrating at home with household members. This is due to the increased risk when you combine alcohol, crowds, an indoor environment, and less ability to practice social distancing. Things to consider include:
- Are you or others likely to consume excessive amounts of alcohol at the event?
- Will the event be held in a private setting such as someone’s home, or in a public place such as a bar or restaurant?
- If the event is held at a bar or restaurant, does the venue have an outdoor space?
- Will indoor venues be limiting attendance to promote social distancing?
- Will be people be willing/able to wear masks, even if the event is outside?
What are your personal, family, and community risk factors?
Older adults and people who have certain health conditions — including heart disease, lung disease, obesity, or a weakened immune system — are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill and experiencing COVID-19 complications.
When deciding how you can safely celebrate New Year’s, consider whether you or anyone in your household is at high risk for COVID-19 complications and whether you will be able to take appropriate steps to stay safe. Here are questions to consider:
- Will I be able to comply with safety rules?
- Will I be able to quarantine at home if I become ill or if I’m exposed to someone who has COVID-19?
- Are there any high-risk family members that could be affected by a potential exposure?
- What are the COVID-19 infection rates in my community?
- What are the COVID-19 infection rates in the community where the event will take place?
- Will I be exposed to anyone who is traveling from an area with high COVID-19 infection rates?
What steps can be taken to promote safety?
In this pandemic world, all activities outside the home carry some level of risk for COVID-19 infection — and New Year’s celebrations are no exception. However, your family and friends may be able to make modifications to your typical plans that lower COVID-19 risks. Here are questions to ask:
- Could high-risk relatives participate virtually?
- Could the number of people be limited?
- Could the event be held at a different venue to better accommodate social distancing?
- Could the event be held outdoors?
- Are there ways to limit contact between participants?
- Could food and beverages be prepared individually to limit passing around of shared items?
- Are all participants in agreement with the steps being taken to promote safety?
- Will participants stick to the agreed-upon safety plans?
Helpful information: CDC guidelines for holiday celebrations during the pandemic
The bottom line: Decision-making regarding where and how to celebrate New Year’s should be based on the risk factors and comfort level of each participant. The best approach is to discuss your plans with family and friends in advance so you can assess the level of risk, figure out what steps can be taken to promote safety, and determine whether it’s a good idea for you and members of your household to participate.
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org