UPDATE #9: Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) - How can I safely celebrate the holiday season?

Sharing celebrations with family and friends are important holiday milestones. However, this year will be a holiday season like no other, and we must continue to maintain our vigilance against COVID-19 and celebrate safely and responsibly to ensure healthy holidays.

Given the current surge in COVID-19 cases, travel outside of your home should be limited. Gatherings must comply with current indoor and outdoor limits, and indoor holiday gatherings should be limited to immediate household members if possible.

Effective November 17th, indoor gatherings are limited to 10 individuals, and effective December 7th, outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 individuals. There are exceptions for wedding ceremonies, funerals, memorial services, religious activities, political activities, and performance venues.

See below for tips and guidance for how to safely observe holiday traditions like caroling, visiting Santa, or spending time with loved ones in college.


Safety Tips For Holiday Celebrations

Tree lightings, menorah lightings, and other holiday gatherings should be held outdoors whenever possible and abide by current gathering limits.

Consider alternatives to visiting Santa at indoor locations, such as virtual visits or outdoor socially distanced visits/photos with Santa. If malls and other indoor locations still choose to offer in-person visits, it should be a touchless experience, and visits should be reservation-only, be socially distanced and limited in time. Santa, staff and guests over age 2 must wear masks. Santa should be behind a plexiglass shield in an open area, and children should not be permitted to sit on Santa's lap.

For choirs and caroling, all singing groups should be socially distanced from each other and their audience during each performance. Singing groups that perform in public must be at least 10 feet away from others or have a physical barrier between them and the audience. All performers and guests must wear masks, and performances must adhere to indoor and outdoor gathering limits.

Holiday parades are discouraged. For those taking place, organizers should consider limiting in-person attendance and must maintain a list of names and phone numbers for all participants, which should be turned over to the local health department to assist with contact tracing. Parades should be socially distanced, and all participants should wear masks. Parade participants should not be permitted to throw items to spectators from floats or cars.

All vendors and organizers should observe social distancing and masking should be observed by staff, shoppers and sellers at winter holiday villages/flea markets/stores. Reservations should be considered to limit crowd size, and winter holiday villages and flea markets should be held outdoors when possible.

For additional safety tips, refer to the Department of Health's winter holiday and celebration guidance.


Holiday Gatherings

Given the current surge in COVID-19 cases, only celebrate the holidays with immediate household members if possible. Indoor gatherings are particularly dangerous places for the virus to spread.

If you do host a gathering,

  • Keep holiday plans as small as possible. The smaller the gathering is, the less likely it is that someone is infected and putting loved ones at risk.
  • Limit the number of attendees to allow people from different households to remain at least 6 feet apart.
  • Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.
  • Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others outside their household.
  • Require guests to wear masks when not eating, whether indoors or outdoors.
  • Indoor gatherings pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities as much as possible.
  • If you do host indoors, increase ventilation by opening windows and doors or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
  • Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
  • Provide attendees with supplies to help everyone stay healthy, including extra masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues. Stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels.
  • Remind attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid buffets and drink stations, and seating arrangements should encourage social distancing.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items such as serving utensils. Use single-use options or identify one person to serve shareable items like salad dressings, food containers, plates and utensils, and condiments.
  • Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors. Keep music levels down so people don't have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
  • Remind invited guests to stay home if they have been exposed to the virus in the last 14 days, are showing COVID-19 symptoms, or recently travelled to an area or a state with high COVID-19 infection rates.


To save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19:

For more guidance on celebrations, see the CDC's page on COVID-19 and holidays.


College Students

Students going home for the holidays are at risk of bringing COVID-19 infection with them, especially if there is an outbreak at their college or university. Even if they are asymptomatic (have no symptoms), students could unknowingly transmit the virus to vulnerable and at-risk individuals and contribute to widespread community transmission.

To protect your loved ones, the Department of Health has released guidance for students travelling home for the holidays.


Before Going Home

  • Students should quarantine away from their families for 14 days before interacting with family members.
  • Students who have family members at high risk of complications from COVID-19 infection (over 60 or with chronic medical conditions) should complete their quarantine somewhere other than in the same household with those high-risk family members.
  • Students should consider getting tested before leaving campus and 5-7 days after any potentially high risk activity (e.g., attendance at a party or gathering). Complete a 14-day quarantine even if the test(s) is (are) negative, as symptoms may occur at any time within that period.
  • If a student tests positive, they should have an isolation plan. The isolation period can generally end 10 days after symptom onset and resolution of fever for at least 24 hours, and with improvement of other symptoms. If a person tests positive and has no symptoms, they should stay home for 10 days.
  • Anyone with symptoms or a positive test should avoid traveling home if possible.
  • Download the COVID Alert NJ app on your cell phone. The app is free and available for Apple and Android phones.
  • Get a flu shot before you travel.

For more on how to protect yourself and your loved ones during the holidays, see the Department of Health's guidance for students travelling home for the holidays.

Find a testing center near you by visiting covid19.nj.gov/testing  (scroll down to the bottom of the webpage; in the “find near me,” enter your zip code to find testing sites near you). Please verify hours and requirements before visiting a test site. Note: testing sites are subject to change without notice.

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