Eastern Ontatio Health Unit / Bureau de santé de l'Ontario

Safe Gatherings: Festive Events During the Winter Months

While most people are now vaccinated against COVID-19, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) is continuing to advise people to take precautions while celebrating festive events (holiday gatherings, New Year’s Eve, and other events) this year. These events often feature social gatherings and shared meals in indoor settings, larger public events, or travel, all of which are risk factors that have the potential to increase the number of COVID-19 cases in our region.

NOTE: All social gatherings or public events must adhere to the measures and restrictions outlined in O. Reg. 364/20: Rules for Areas at Step 3 and at the Roadmap Exit Step.

Hosting an in-person gathering

If you choose to host an in-person gathering:

  • Individuals should wear a face covering and physically distance when gathering indoors in a private residence, or outdoors, with people from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or if their status is unknown. A group of fully vaccinated individuals may consider removing face coverings if everyone is comfortable.
  • Do not exceed the gathering limit of 25 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
  • Provide all necessary supplies, including hand sanitizer, soap and water.
  • Open windows if possible.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces.
  • Ask guests to not attend if they have symptoms, even if they are mild.
  • Make a list of guests attending in case public health needs it for contact tracing.
  • Remind people of public health guidance to follow during the event.
  • If you choose to serve food or drinks at your event, you should:
    • Wash your hands before and frequently during the preparation and serving; and
    • Have everyone wash their hands before and after eating.

Attending an in-person gathering

If you choose to attend an in-person gathering:

  • Individuals should wear a face covering and physically distance when gathering indoors in a private residence, or outdoors, with people from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or if their status is unknown. A group of fully vaccinated individuals may consider removing face coverings if everyone is comfortable.
  • Stay home if you have any symptoms, even if they are mild, or if you are in quarantine or self-isolating.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer regularly throughout the event.
  • Cover your cough
  • Consider participating virtually or not attending if you are immunocompromised or at higher risk of severe disease and/or exposure to COVID-19.

Some additional considerations include: 

  • Virtual gatherings or events are a safe way to celebrate.
  • Gatherings or events outdoors are safer than indoors.
  • The fewer people who gather, the lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
  • Remember that knowing someone does not reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community from the spread of COVID-19.

Outdoor activities

Participating in outdoor celebrations this holiday season can be done safely and in fact, they are likely safer than indoor activities. Keep in mind that you still need to follow public health precautions such as keeping 2 metres away from anyone outside your household, wearing a face covering if necessary, ensuring proper hand hygiene and staying home if you are sick. Here are some fun activities to do as a family:

  • Decorating outdoors
  • Tobogganing, skating, skiing, snowshoeing
  • Lighting an outdoor Menorah or Christmas tree
  • Walking or driving around the neighbourhood as a family to see the holiday lights
  • Setting up a bonfire if you have the space

Visiting Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves

This holiday season, if you choose to visit Santa in-person, it is safer to see him outdoors than indoors. You can also consider visiting with him virtually. However, if you choose to have your children visit Santa in person, follow these tips to do it safely:

  • Stay home if feeling sick, even if symptoms are mild.
  • Wear a face covering indoors, even when taking a photo with Santa.
  • Wear a face covering outdoors if 2 metres distance cannot be maintained, even if a photo is being taken.
  • Sitting on Santa’s lap or having close contact is not advised.
  • Pictures can be taken with Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves closer than 2 metres if they are separated by plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier. Children should approach them one-by-one for their picture unless they are from the same household.
  • Do not congregate or linger. Line up 2 metres apart from members of other households.
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often.
  • If you are planning or organizing an in-person event to meet with Santa, Mrs. Claus, or the elves, you are required to comply with all the gathering limits, measures and other restrictions outlined in O. Reg. 364/20. Local restrictions may also apply.

Parades

Attending a parade

This year, Christmas parades and organized events are allowed. If you are attending a parade, please follow these precautions:

  • Avoid crowds and maintain physical distance of 2 metres as much as possible from people outside your household.
  • If you are unable to maintain 2 metres of physical distance from another individual who is not part of your household then you must wear a face covering as required by O. Reg. 364/20.
  • Stay home if you are feeling sick, even if symptoms are mild.

Organizing a parade

Here are some recommendations for organizers and participants to ensure a safe parade:

  • Inform attendees to stay home if sick. Urge everyone to maintain physical distancing from people outside of their household and that they must wear a mask if they are unable to do so. This can be promoted via the parade’s promotional channels and signage along the parade route.
  • Those that are riding on a float must wear a mask if they cannot maintain physical distancing. Limit the number of people on floats to the number that can safely distance. A mask should be worn when moving around on the float as it’s unlikely that people will not be able to maintain physical distancing at all times. The use of barriers can also be explored if physical distancing isn’t possible.
  • All participants should complete a COVID-19 screening prior to the event. Organizers are encouraged to collect and maintain a list of staff, volunteers and contractors and also to pre-register parade participants to support COVID-19 contact tracing.
  • Participants walking along the parade route should maintain or plan for additional physical distancing. They are also required to wear a mask if they cannot maintain physical distancing. The distancing is especially important for people playing wind instruments, as they will not be able to wear a mask.
  • Consider avoiding the distribution of items (e.g., candy canes, chocolate) to attendees as it makes physical distancing challenging, creates hand hygiene concerns. and encourages people to remove their mask to consume the item.  If you choose to distribute items, consider using various tools (such as a clean garbage collection stick) and ensure frequent hand hygiene. Once again, it’s best to wear a mask as it is likely that physical distancing will not be maintained at all times.
  • Consider how to safely collect food, money or other donations, such as providing collection boxes or vehicles, requesting that items be bagged, and/or offering cashless donation options. These activities should be avoided if appropriate measures are not in place to reduce contact.
  • Organizers should consider drive-in, drive-through (e.g., reverse parade) events or virtual events as much as possible.

Safe gift exchanges

If you are planning on exchanging gifts with people outside your household:

  • Maintain a distance of 2 metres from anyone outside your household and wear a face covering when gifts are being exchanged, if there are individuals from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or if their status is unknown.
  • Wash your hands after handling or opening gifts.
  • Stay home if you are sick, even with if they are mild symptoms, or if you are in quarantine or self-isolating.

Workplace celebrations

When planning workplace celebrations, consider the various measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. COVID-19 transmission and outbreaks have occurred at these types of events. Virtual gatherings or events are the safest way to celebrate the holidays with co-workers.

If you choose to host or attend a workplace gathering or event:

  • It is subject to gathering limits, measures and restrictions outlined in O. Reg. 364/20.
  • You should follow advice and guidelines outlined in the Hosting a Gathering section above.
  • Choose venues with sufficient space for physical distancing.
  • Events at businesses (e.g., restaurant, bar and other food and drink establishments, meeting and event spaces, etc.) are subject to provincial restrictions as per O. Reg. 364/20. Local restrictions may also apply.

What should seniors (those aged 70 and over) and individuals with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions do?

The risk of severe complications from COVID-19 increases for individuals aged 70 and over, and for those who have compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions. These individuals are strongly advised to:

  • Limit their close contacts to people in their household.
  • Evaluate the risk of day-to-day activities.
  • Seek help from family, friends or neighbours for essential errands.
  • Avoid public settings where physical distancing may be challenging.
  • Stay connected to family and friends by phone, video calls or physically distanced visits if possible.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 and get your 3rd dose booster as soon as you are eligible.

Domestic and International Travel

We would all like to see our loved ones in person. If you plan to travel, here are a few recommendations:

  • Individuals who travel internationally must follow all rules and regulations outlined by the federal government.
  • Those who travel are advised to be fully vaccinated before doing so, while those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated should avoid non-essential travel to all destinations.
  • Regardless of vaccination status, those who travel should practice personal public health measures while away and upon their return.
    • This includes wearing a face covering, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying outdoors as much as possible in order to reduce risk of contracting COVID-19.
    • Travellers should also stay informed about the COVID-19 situation at their destinations and follow all local COVID-19 restrictions.
    • If any traveller is symptomatic upon return, even with mild symptoms, get tested and stay home.

If you are considering travel and/or overnight stays:

  • Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.
  • Ensure you adhere to provincial restrictions on organized public events and social gatherings (O. Reg. 364/20). Local restrictions may apply.
  • Consider whether you, someone in your household, or anyone you plan on visiting is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Plan accordingly whether you should stay in the same residence or elsewhere.
  • Develop a plan for self-isolation, heath care and returning home if someone becomes ill, even with mild symptoms.

If you do stay at another home overnight or host overnight guests:

  • Provide hand hygiene supplies, including hand sanitizer, soap, and water.
  • Stay 2 metres apart from people in different households.
  • Feel comfortable about choosing to wear a face covering or asking your guests to wear one in your home and at your host’s home.
  • Host and guests from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or if their status is unknown should not sleep in the same bedroom and use separate washrooms, if possible.
  • Spend time outdoors.
  • Avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors.
  • Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms (host and guest)
  • Develop a plan for self-isolation, heath care and returning home if someone becomes ill, even with mild symptoms

IMPORTANT: If you or someone in your family have symptoms of COVID-19 (even if mild), are in quarantine or self-isolating, do not attend any in-person event or gathering.

Eastern Ontatio Health Unit / Bureau de santé de l'Ontario