Anyone looking to celebrate the fall and winter holidays without spreading COVID-19 should consider a window fan or a walk-by greeting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The suggestions are part of the agency's list of safe ways to get festive — sort of an epidemiologist's take on Martha Stewart's Home for the Holidays.
The CDC says it's updating its holiday guidelines
Update, Oct. 5: The guidance that was posted to the CDC's website isn't the agency's final word on the 2021 holidays. The day after this story was published, the agency told NPR that it's in the process of updating its advice for Americans to safely observe the upcoming holiday season.
The tips that had been on the website were "outdated" and a new version will come out soon, the CDC public affairs said.
Here's what the most recent guidance told people to do
The agency said it's safer for people from different households to get together outdoors than indoors. But if a gathering must take place indoors, the CDC recommends opening windows and doors to increase ventilation.
"You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window," the agency says. "This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows."
"What we should be doing is look at ventilation in indoor places," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, told CBS' Face the Nation.
"We know now that this is clearly spread by aerosol, and when you have something spread by aerosol, you absolutely want more ventilation, which is the reason why outdoors is always much safer than indoors," he said. "And if you are indoors, ventilation is going to be key."
Getting vaccinated, keeping a mask handy and social distancing remain at the top of the CDC's guidance for people wanting to avoid the coronavirus. But it also has advice for anyone trying to navigate the potential risks of celebrating holidays during a pandemic.
Some highlights for getting together with people from outside your own household:
- "In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings," the CDC says — but it adds that in areas with high case numbers, people should consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor areas or in close contact with someone who isn't vaccinated.
- Anyone older than 2 who is also not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in indoor public places.
- Consider virtual celebrations or gatherings instead of in-person events.
- If you're sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, stay home.
- Discuss expectations and behavior early, so everyone is working from the same ground rules about masks and other safety measures.
The CDC's holiday-specific guidance ranges from the timeless — "Decorate your home with holiday themed items and banners" — to the pandemic-specific: "Have an outdoor celebration with everyone at least 6 feet apart."
If those approaches don't provide the sense of community many of us enjoy during the holidays, the CDC suggests walking or driving through your neighborhood waving to neighbors. You could also volunteer to help others who are in need, or drop off gifts at doorsteps.
New health data points to things getting better
Recent prediction models show the U.S. could be heading toward a steady decline in new cases — a welcome development after the delta variant fueled a late-summer surge. But Fauci says it's not yet time to relax.
"It's just too soon to tell" whether Americans will be able to gather during the winter holidays, Fauci said Sunday.
The focus now, Fauci said, should be on bringing case numbers down, through vaccination and other means.
Despite the promising news, nearly every U.S. state and territory is currently experiencing high levels of community transmission, according to the CDC. The agency is hoping to avoid the massive end-of year spike in cases and deaths Americans endured last year.