Before you host a small group, read this.

By Lauren Wellbank
October 28, 2020
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Cold and flu season is officially upon us, and once you consider that within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, you'll understand why it is more important than ever to protect ourselves against bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, this might feel more difficult now, as the holidays approach and families make plans for limited and socially-distanced gatherings to celebrate. While the safest choice is simply not to gather at all, small, outdoor functions where social distancing is practiced are still believed to be lower in risk. If you are hosting a handful of loved ones in the upcoming months, you'll want to speak with them frankly about their health before they enter your home. Here, two doctors weigh in on how to have those conversations to ensure everyone's safety.

couple standing in doorway
Credit: Getty / Portra

Asking guests to get tested can be complicated.

It may be tempting to ask your guests to get a COVID-19 test before they enter your home, but Deborah Gilboa M.D., a family physician, says you may want to avoid wading into that line of questioning. "One of the reasons that workplaces and schools have so many guidelines about COVID testing and return is that there are a lot of variables," she explains. "Unless you know this guest (and science) remarkably well, you may not want to dive into the pool of asking 'What type of test? How long did the results take to get? Have you quarantined since taking that test until coming to my home?'" Unless all of your guests are willing to quarantine from the moment they take the test to the moment they pass through your door—which could work if you're hosting a loved one who lives locally—risk is still part of the equation.

Be upfront and honest.

Be upfront with your guests about house rules and your own comfort levels, and clearly express any concerns you may have when extending an invitation, says board-certified family medicine doctor, Dr. Mikhail Varshavski. "I think being as transparent as possible is the best course of action," he says. "When you dance around the issue, it makes it awkward for all parties involved." Ask guests if they have traveled out of state (specifically to areas designated as high risk by the Centers for Disease Control), if they have experienced any symptoms (a cough, fever, muscle aches, loss of taste or smell, chills, or uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms are all red flags), and if they have been around anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within the last month, he says. And if your loved one is a healthcare worker, ask them about their exposure to COVID-19 patients.

Play it safe—and skip hosting altogether.

All in all, skipping even the smallest family gatherings that extend beyond your quarantine pod—like those with your siblings and their children, who do not live with you—is the safest course of action. This is especially true "if you are over 55 or have an immuno-compromising condition," says Dr. Varshavski, adding that if this is the case, "you should strongly consider passing up having guests over during the coming months." Dr. Gilboa adds that while we all miss family, you need to consider the risk a guest poses before you decide to host an event in the first place. "The most contagious days of the coronavirus are the two or three days before any symptoms present," she says. "This means that a guest can be entirely well and yet bring the coronavirus into your home."

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