Spreading good cheer — and COVID too? Nearly 4 in 10 Americans will attend large holiday parties this year


Despite coronavirus fears, a third of hosts aren’t requiring masks at their gatherings, while more than a quarter won’t follow social distancing rules.


COLUMBUS, Ohio — The holiday season is fast approaching and families across the United States are making their plans to see friends and relatives. Despite the ongoing pandemic, a new survey finds many Americans are still planning for a normal holiday party, regardless of the risks for infection. Researchers from the Ohio State University say indoor gatherings this winter could be a recipe for an even greater COVID-19 disaster.

The university’s national survey of over 2,000 people finds nearly four in 10 Americans will attend a large gathering during the holidays. Thirty-eight percent say they plan to be at a party with over 10 people. One-third of the poll (33%) add they won’t be asking guests to wear masks around them. More than a quarter of holiday partygoers (27%) will not be observing social distancing rules.

“We’re going to look back at what happened during this holiday season and ask ourselves, ‘Were we part of the solution or were we part of the problem?’” says Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser in a university release. “When you’re gathered together around the table, engaged in conversation, sitting less than 6 feet apart with your masks down, even in a small group, that’s when the spread of this virus can really happen.”

While many people are not letting the pandemic stand in the way of holiday tradition, the poll also finds many will be making sure people who are already sick don’t come over. Researchers say 82 percent of Americans will be asking guests experiencing COVID symptoms not to come to their parties.

A digital holiday party a safer, smarter option

Gonsenhauser believes the safest, and admittedly unpopular, solution this year is to cancel in-person holiday plans. For those who won’t do that, researchers say there are several ways to limit the risk of spreading COVID. The study suggests that hosts arrange their party’s seating to match guests coming from the same household. If guests are coming from out of town, hosts should stay informed about the infection rate in the guest’s hometown.

“If you have somebody in your household who’s high risk and you’re in a low incidence area, you’re going to want to think twice about having a celebration where people are coming from an area where there’s a lot of virus in the community,” Gonsenhauser explains.

For many Americans, celebrations will definitely have a different feel in 2020. Researchers say families can use current COVID restrictions to experiment with digital alternatives. Trying out a virtual dinner and gift exchange can cut down on travel and exposure risk. Families could also put a new spin on “Secret Santa” events by leaving gifts on a family member’s door step.

The survey was conducted by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

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