Health & Science

A Doctor Answers: Are we going to Grandma’s this holiday season?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed how we move about both in public and at home. We wear masks, we avoid large gatherings, we maintain social distance, we wash our hands and follow the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies. We have been especially careful when it comes to protecting vulnerable individuals. Some of us may still not have seen grandparents or new babies since the spring. The emotional burden can grow heavier with each passing week.  

Now it’s holiday time, when we traditionally make the trek to gather around festive tables, share food and exchange hugs and kisses. And while we all want to see family and friends at this time of year, and even feel like we can (or desperately need to) let our guards down, we simply can’t. 

This year, it’s got to be different. The safest and current best practice really is to stay home with your immediate family, the people you share a house with. Luckily, there are a lot of creative ways you can celebrate virtually and still get the benefit of feeling that connection with more distant loved ones. But, acknowledging that some people may choose to travel, here are some considerations you need to take into account this holiday season.


Do your best to avoid being in a poorly ventilated public space for longer than 15 minutes. Your own car may be a better transportation option than a plane, train or bus. There’s been some information published about how the air in a plane is “cleaner” than we might think, but put one COVID-infected person in that cabin and the best filters in the world won’t help. If you must travel, masks are not optional. Also carry hand sanitizer for quick “spritzes” on your hands when soap and water isn’t available, and a pack of wipes to clean anything multiple hands may have touched. Good hand hygiene applies everywhere.

Hugs and kisses

We need to steer clear of any behaviors that can increase the likelihood of transmitting the virus. So, you should probably avoid Uncle Leo’s big, wet, sloppy kisses. Can you just turn your head away and hug Nana? This may be the year to embrace the elbow bump.


There are good reasons why experts recommend avoiding gatherings with people outside our immediate household. Sitting around the table for a meal puts you face to face with others, and the virus can easily travel through droplets in the air via all the laughter and conversations of everyone there. Communal dishes and the serving utensils used to plate them can also potentially carry the virus. Keep this in mind as you consider how you plan your meal, beyond the dishes that you cook. Eat outdoors if weather allows. If you have no choice but to be indoors, spread the seating out so no one is sitting too close. Sending leftovers home is also probably a bad idea, so don’t overcook. 


More than likely you don’t need to wipe down that present before you open it, but be cautious.

As the mom of two growing kids and the daughter of older parents, it makes me sad to think that our lifelong traditions that bring so much joy may need to be altered this year. But as physician who sees the data behind the science, I know we need to change those traditions, at least for now, so we can keep everyone safe. My hope is that the silver lining will be the creation of a few brand-new holiday traditions that will enrich us all for years to come.

Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.

For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.

Dr. Christina Johns is Sr. Medical Advisor for PM Pediatrics and a practicing pediatric emergency physician. Follow her at @drcjohns on twitter.