How to safely host family and friends in your home during Christmas in the time of Covid

Make Christmas merrier this year by taking extra care

Yule be glad. Cutlery and crockery should not be shared between guests, in order to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 from an infected person who might not even be showing symptoms. Photograph: iStock

As we edge our way closer to Christmas festivities in our homes, many people will still be concerned about hosting intergenerational gatherings for fear of catching or spreading Covid-19 to vulnerable friends or family members. From December 18th to January 6th, Government guidelines give the go -ahead for intercounty travel and for people from two other households to visit our homes – with no limits on numbers at these gatherings.

Here we suggest ways we can minimise the risk of catching or spreading Covid-19 even in the midst of celebrations.

1) How should I prepare for hosting family or friends over the Christmas break?

It’s a good idea to phone visitors in advance to discuss your arrangements, reminding them that anyone who feels unwell – or shows signs of Covid-19 – should not visit. Also, if any member of your household becomes ill in the days beforehand, you should cancel your gathering. When speaking with your guests before they arrive, you should explain that while they are very welcome, you will be making special efforts to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 during their visit.

2) What should people do when they arrive at your home?

By now, you’ll realise that there should be no kissing, hugging or shaking hands when people arrive at your home – even on Christmas Day – because Covid-19 spreads most easily in respiratory droplets that remain on your face or hands. Find ways to greet people gracefully and sincerely without these traditional greetings. For example, you could bow slightly while maintaining eye contact or you could spread your arms wider to simulate a hug.


3) Should people wear masks indoors when visiting friends and relatives over Christmas?

People should wear masks indoors when they are seated or standing close together and when the ventilation is poor, according to the latest guidelines on mask wearing from the World Health Organization (WHO). In areas of known or suspected community or cluster Covid-19 transmission, the WHO advises people to wear a mask, in indoor and in outdoor settings, where physical distancing of at least one metre cannot be maintained. It's also important to put on and take off your mask using the strings at the side and put it safely away (ideally in a sealed plastic bag) when eating or drinking.

4) I’ve read that warm indoor crowded spaces are the perfect environment for spreading Covid-19. How can I make my home less risky when people visit?

Yes, there has been a lot more attention paid recently to the airborne transmission of Covid-19 indoors. Prof John Wenger, director of the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry at University College Cork, says "the tiny coronavirus particles do not fall to the ground but remain suspended in the air as aerosols for up to several hours". Therefore airborne transmission occurs when the virus spreads throughout the room, building up over time if ventilation isn't adequate. Prof Wenger stresses the importance of opening windows – even a little bit – to keep indoor air fresh. Windows in kitchens, bathrooms and toilets should be kept a little bit open all the time or extractor fans used when people are visiting. "The important thing is to have a flow of air so you might only need one window open and the door open too," says Prof Wenger.

5) How should we manage cooking and serving food?

While there will always be those who like to hover around the kitchen during meal preparations, it’s best to have fewer people in the kitchen preparing food this Christmas. Government guidelines also advise the wearing of masks in kitchens when cooking and serving Christmas dinner. Buffet style meals are not advised and people should not share cutlery, glasses or crockery with other visitors.

6) Where should people sit for Christmas dinner?

Public health experts have clearly stated that members of each household should sit together when visiting family and friends over Christmas. While this might seem a bit crazy – given that you’re there to socialise with other people – you could find ways to seat people in so-called social bubbles by leaving a table setting between each group.

7) Is it safe to exchange Christmas gifts this year?

While there was a lot of fear about the novel coronavirus (scientifically known as SARS-CoV-2) remaining on packaging and surfaces at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have not found packaging to be a strong means of transmission. One study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus lives on cardboard or paper – typically materials for gift-wrapping – for about 24 hours. So, if you wrap your gifts in advance and wash your hands before giving them out, there is a minimal risk of spreading the virus by giving gifts. If you are aiming to keep your social contacts low this Christmas – as we all should still be doing –you could of course post presents or drop presents on the doorsteps of friends’ houses – or better still – meet outdoors to exchange gifts.

8) Is there any other way to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 between guests?

Yes, you could break up the day by going outside or moving to a different room for a while, remembering to keep all spaces well ventilated. This will also allow guests to circulate more easily while remembering to stay a safe distance from each other. You could also have a designated seat for an older or vulnerable family member that no one else uses when you are together.

9) Is it safe to use the toilet when visiting other people’s homes?

Well, that depends on how clean your friends/family members keep their toilets. Shared toilets and wash hand basins should be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly before visitors arrive and the window left slightly open throughout their visit. Adequate soap and clean towels should be left out for visitors to use. And, guests and residents alike must always remember to close the lid of the toilet before flushing to prevent viruses and bacteria from getting into the air.

10) What else should I remember about Covid-19 when visiting over Christmas?

The basic hygiene practices still apply so everyone must follow respiratory etiquette by covering their mouth and nose with their elbow or using a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth. Everyone should wash their hands in warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after dinner.

11) Would it be a good idea to avoid sharing a meal altogether and find other ways of celebrating Christmas together?

All public health experts agree that meeting up outdoors is less risky than spending time together indoors. So, if the weather isn’t too cold or wet, you could meet family or friends to go for a walk or even have a Christmas picnic. The brave and daring among us might even consider having Christmas dinner outdoors – under an awning with outdoor heaters, if you have them – and with everyone wearing warm coats, hats and thin gloves. Now, that would make for an extraordinarily memorable Christmas Day while staying safe from Covid-19 too.