MCPHD, City of Indianapolis Offer Recommendations for Safe Holiday Gatherings

December 17, 2020


INDIANAPOLIS – As the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to increase across the United States, the Marion County Public Health Department and the City of Indianapolis are urging residents to modify holiday plans to keep friends, families, and communities healthy and safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful and isolating for many people. Gatherings during the holidays can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the safest way to celebrate the holidays is at home with people who live in the same household.

A household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your home. This can include family members, as well as roommates or people who are unrelated to you.

“Avoiding in-person gatherings with people from outside your household is especially important for adults over the age of 65 or those with a chronic disease or other medical conditions,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 poses the lowest risk for spread.”

“Even as we look to turn the corner with the first healthcare and front-line workers receiving vaccines in our community, we must remain as vigilant as ever to protect our friends, family, and neighbors from COVID-19,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett. “Usually, we would be gathering indoors to celebrate all together—but doing so this year could imperil those we hold most dear. Please celebrate the holidays responsibly, so that everyone can enjoy many more happy holiday seasons to come.”

In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, pose different levels of risk.

or gatherings that include persons of different households, everyone should wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose, except when eating or drinking. Plus, hosts should encourage guests to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol

Several factors can contribute to the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 at small in-person gatherings.

  • Family and friends should consider the number of COVID-19 cases in their community and in the community where they plan to celebrate when deciding whether to host or attend a gathering. Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
  • Exposure during travel – Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces.
  • Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor air flow (for example, small enclosed spaces with no outside air), pose more risk. Outdoor holiday gatherings are not typically possible in Indiana because of cold and winter weather.
  • Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick.
  • Gatherings with more people pose a higher risk. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of those attending from different households to stay 6 feet apart, wear masks, and wash hands frequently. Encourage guests to avoid shouting or singing.
  • Individuals who do not consistently adhere to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask wearing, hand-washing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than those who consistently followed these safety measures.


Other precautions to keep guests safe include limiting the number of people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared or handled, if possible. Designate one person who is wearing a mask to serve all the food and sharable items so that guests are not handling the serving utensils. Ideally, ask guests to bring food and drinks for their household only, and provide single-use options for plates, cups, utensils, and condiments.

Also, avoid hosting an in-person gatherings if you or anyone in your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others, has symptoms of COVID-19, is waiting for test results, may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days, or is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Whenever possible, host a virtual celebration with friends and family.

Taking steps to protect everyone’s health will help our communities recover more quickly. To learn more, please visit



Curt Brantingham, M.A.
Media/Public Information Coordinator
Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County
Marion County Public Health Department
Indianapolis, IN

317-221-2316 (o)  317-525-7450 (m)