The holidays are fast approaching. Before you know it, you’ll be feverishly wrapping gifts and celebrating with the people you love.
But before that happens, you’ll need to plan what the holiday season will look like for you this year. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in some places and the added threat of regular seasonal bugs, your winter getaways might look a little — or a lot — different this year.
That doesn’t mean you need to forgo festive fun altogether, though.
As you pull out the decorations, plan your favorite meals and invite family members to celebrate, keep health and safety at the forefront of your mind. The holiday season will be better for everyone if you take the following precautions.
Double-check your decorations.
Holiday decorations set the mood for festivity, but they can also present safety hazards. Decorate with care to protect you and your guests.
For instance? Electric lights don’t last forever.
Check your strands occasionally for loose pieces or frayed wires. Replace damaged lights right away. Even if your holiday lights seem to be in good shape, don’t leave them on when you’re sleeping or away from home.
Real Christmas trees fill your home with a fresh evergreen scent, but they can become a fire hazard after they dry out. Keep trees well watered throughout the season. And take them down shortly after the holiday.
A candle accident could cause all your decorations to quickly go up in flames. Use alternative candles, like the battery-operated variety, or keep open flames at least 12 inches from any flammable material.
Respect the weather.
If you’ll be hitting the road this holiday season, remember that winter weather can be unpredictable.
For a road trip, stock your car with essentials in case you run into slippery roads or a snowstorm. Items to pack include:
- Warm coats, sturdy gloves and extra blankets
- Nutritious snacks and bottled waters
- Emergency supplies, like an ice scraper, a sandbag and jumper cables
- A weather radio and a flashlight (plus extra batteries)
And before you head out, make sure your car can handle the drive, especially if you’re traveling to a place with different roads than you’re used to. Heading north, for example, might require different tires.
Of course, if you’re facing snow-covered roads or a dangerous forecast, it’s better to postpone your trip than to venture out.
For a drive to the airport, check before you leave home to make sure that winter weather hasn’t canceled your flight. Leave plenty early so you can take your time on the road, too.
Prep your home for the kiddos.
If you’ll be welcoming little ones, even if it’s just for a few hours, take the time to make your house safe and inviting for them.
Curious toddlers can easily get into dangerous situations even in a room full of adults.
Install baby gates at the tops of staircases, cover floor-level outlets, and latch low cabinets that contain kitchen tools or cleaning supplies. And place fragile decorations, including breakable ornaments, out of kids’ reach.
Tall furniture can also be a life-threatening hazard for youngsters.
To prevent dressers and bookcases from tipping, anchor them to the wall. This may seem like an extreme step, but it’s a relatively simple way to avoid a preventable — and possibly deadly — accident.
Be safe in the kitchen.
The holiday meal may be the highlight of your celebrations. Keep it that way with safe cooking practices.
Holiday food poisoning can be a preventable problem. The best way to prevent it? Thaw your meat properly. Ideally, you should place the meat in the refrigerator in advance. To thaw a turkey, plan on 24 hours in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds of meat.
If you’re short on time, thaw your meat in a sink full of cold water. A cold-water bath must be changed every 30 minutes until the meat is ready to cook. And never leave meat on the counter to thaw. Bacteria can grow quickly as the meat warms up.
All meat and egg products must be cooked to a safe internal temperature.
You can measure this with a food thermometer. The thigh meat of a whole turkey, for example, should get up to 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Burns can be another serious concern in a busy kitchen.
Keep hot pans, especially those filled with liquid, on the back burners of the stove or the far side of the counter. And remind younger kids to stay out of the kitchen while people are cooking.
Food safety doesn’t end once the meal is ready, either.
Perishable items should sit out for no more than two hours. As soon as possible after the meal, pack leftovers away in the refrigerator. Transfer hot dishes to shallow containers so they’ll cool more quickly.
For more guidance on holiday food safety, check out these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Keep your germs to yourself (even the “normal” ones).
After the year we’ve all had, we probably don’t have to tell you to wash your hands and stay away from people while you’re sick.
But COVID-19 isn’t the only thing to worry about this time of year. Seasonal sniffles and run-of-the-mill viruses can still cause enough problems on their own.
And while we can’t always prevent illness, we can take action to mitigate spread and keep our loved ones from heading home with a head cold.
First of all, get your flu shot.
The more people who are protected against seasonal influenza, the less likely it is that your holiday get-together will lead to a family outbreak.
Encourage guests to stay home if they’re sick, and don’t take your germs to other people’s houses, either.
Remember that some illnesses are transmittable even after you feel better. For example, norovirus remains contagious for a few days after recovery.
Do your best not to pick up new germs along the way to your destination.
Wash your hands before eating at a restaurant and after using a rest-stop bathroom. On an airplane, use antibacterial wipes to clean off the armrests, trays and seat buckles.
Even if everyone in your group seems healthy, it’s smart to take precautions during a visit. Anyone involved in food preparation should wash hands frequently, and everybody should scrub up before eating. Cover your coughs and sneezes, and remind children not to get too close to other people’s faces.
Don’t forget about COVID.
We know. How could anyone forget about the pandemic? But what we mean is don’t underestimate the virus because you’re caught up in the holidays.
In 2020, COVID-19 adds an extra dimension to the importance of holiday safety.
And we hate to say it, but this year, it’s best to limit your holiday travel and visiting if at all possible.
Any time you mix with people from outside your household — even if they’re close family members — you risk picking up the virus or spreading it to others.
Remember: you can be contagious even if you don’t have symptoms.
Traveling from one community to another can be especially risky. There’s a chance that you could set off a new outbreak in the town you’re visiting or once you return home.
If you can, opt for at-home celebrations this year, and find new ways to connect with extended family members.
Drop off care packages, wish loved ones happy holidays over the phone or plan a virtual party using an online chat service.
If you can’t be swayed from traveling to family, make your visit as safe as possible. Some tips:
- If feasible, have everyone coming to the gathering get a COVID test several days before your trip and quarantine until heading out on the road.
- Limit the time frame for your get-together. Shorter dinners may be less risky because the less time everyone spends in close proximity, the better.
- Spread guests apart from one another and wear masks when you’re not eating. Better yet, gather outside if possible, or keep a few windows open indoors for better ventilation.
- Be prepared for last-minute cancellations. If you or your hosts start exhibiting any symptoms of illness, it’s best to call off the festivities.
- Also, there should be a designated area of the home where overnight guests who start feeling ill can isolate from the rest of the family.
Holiday safety is important every year, but it’s especially serious this time around. Precautions aren’t meant to take the fun out of your celebrations. The goal is to protect your loved ones so everyone will be able to gather again next year.
In the meantime, get creative with the approaching holidays. And for more seasonal safety tips during the pandemic, check out this lengthy guide on holiday in the time of coronavirus from the CDC.