Have a Happy and COVID-Free Holiday

Unless COVID throws us another curve ball, we should be able to gather with family and friends safely this holiday season.

Kim Noble
Friends at a party

December 2022: Whenever you test yourself for COVID at home — whether you’re positive or negative — you should report your result. The results are kept private and anonymous. Every test that gets reported helps public health teams better understand where outbreaks are happening, so they can get help to people who need it.

Every household in the US can order four free rapid tests at covidtests.gov or by calling 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

We’re heading into our third holiday season since COVID has been in our lives. Each one has had its own unique flavor. In 2020, things were pretty bad. We didn’t yet have the vaccines that now give us a strong defense against severe illness and death. In 2021, the situation was about to get much worse than we realized — a new ultra-contagious variant, Omicron, was just hitting the scene.

So far, 2022 feels like a completely different experience. Most of us will feel comfortable traveling for a holiday gathering this year — or hosting one. And as long as another crazy new variant doesn’t come along, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. We are now armed with enough data-backed knowledge, prevention methods, and treatment options to keep ourselves safe from catastrophic outcomes.

Whether you’re the one going “over the river and through the woods” to a gathering or you’re the one hosting, you now have simple tools that will help keep your holidays COVID-free:

You’re Traveling

  • Consider taking at least a couple of tests, 48 hours apart, before you go. If you’re traveling internationally, you may be required to test, so do your homework. It’s also just an easy thing to do. And you’d probably rather recuperate in the comfort of your own home than find out you’re infected while you’re traveling and have to isolate somewhere else.

  • Bring your vaccine card. If you are traveling internationally, it may be required, and in the US, it never hurts to have it on hand, just in case.

  • For convenience, pack a few home tests in your luggage. If someone in the family comes down with a cough or the sniffles, you’ll be able to quickly take a test without having to interrupt your holiday festivities to go find a test somewheres.

  • Check the COVID levels where you’re going. Even if they’re low, consider packing a high-performance mask, in case levels change while you’re there. Plus, you might find yourself wanting one if you’re in a crowded place or stuck near someone who appears ill.

  • Make a plan in case you (or a travel companion) test positive during the trip. If you do, you shouldn’t get on a plane, and you shouldn’t travel with others in a car, even if it’s a mild (or asymptomatic) case. Understand when it would be safe to travel again. For international destinations, find out what you would need to do before you’d be allowed to come home. Consider where you could stay to isolate, and bring a few items that would allow you to comfortably extend your trip.

You’re Hosting

  • For your own comfort, and that of your guests, take at least a couple of tests, 48 hours apart before you entertain. Even if the risk is low, taking a test is easy. You don't want to call everyone days after your event to let them know YOU might have given them the unpleasant “gift” of COVID.

  • Just a thought: I was at a reunion recently where small prizes/gifts were given to the guests who proved they were the first vaccinated, the most recently vaccinated, and the ones closest to a randomly selected date or two. It was a fun way of lightening the conversation about a topic that has created a lot of angst and kept us all apart for too long.

  • My mom keeps a welcome basket of fuzzy socks in her entryway. Guests can grab a pair if their feet feel cold. Even if no one uses them, it’s a nice touch. You can do the same with home COVID tests.

  • Add some high-performance masks to that entryway basket with the home tests (and fuzzy socks). And just maybe, your cousin who has a cough will grab one before greeting grandma.

  • Have a plan for what to do if someone tests positive. Most likely, you’ll find out afterwards (unless someone uses a test from your basket!), so make sure you have good contact info for all your guests and know what the guidelines are for people who have been exposed.

Whether You’re Traveling or Hosting

  • If you haven’t already, get the new COVID booster (and your flu shot) before you travel or entertain. Keep in mind it takes two weeks for the vaccines to reach full potency.

  • Take special note of any high-risk relatives or guests at the event. People over 65 years old and those with certain health conditions remain at the greatest risk of serious illness or death, so being careful enough so that they feel comfortable is the considerate thing to do.

  • Be prepared with information and diplomacy. We don’t always share the same viewpoints as our family and friends, and things could get awkward if those differences become the topic of conversation. You might come armed with ideas to shift Cousin COVID-consipracy-theories to a less-divisive topic. And you might also arm yourself with information and resources to clearly convey to Aunt I’m-not-sure-yet-whether-vaccines-are-safe that she should keep herself healthy by scheduling the shots.

Celebrate! Give thanks for the scientists who brought us vaccines and treatments, the researchers who proved that other safety measures work, and the front-line workers who got us through the most difficult times. And of course, give thanks that we’re now in a time when gathering relatively safely is possible again.