Health Department Says, “Think Small, “Cozy” Holiday Celebrations This Year”

Brewster, NY—The leaves are falling, the air is crisp, and the holiday season is fast approaching. Halloween and Día de los Muertos are on most minds, but Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are not far behind. This holiday season, when many long to travel and gather with friends and family, the coronavirus continues to present a threat. This is particularly true with older adults or those with pre-existing conditions.

“Here in Putnam County and New York State, we must remain vigilant to protect the most vulnerable among our families and friends” says County Executive MaryEllen Odell. “Some of the most joyful aspects of holidays have now become challenges we all have to face—from college students coming home for the holidays to grandparents coming in from out of town. The most important thing we must all consider is the health and well-being of our families and communicating with one-another about how our celebrations can be both joyful and safe.”

Caution and watchfulness continue to be important, despite reports about quick recoveries in more recent months since the pandemic began. What these cases most clearly demonstrate is the importance of evidence-based practices in science, as well as how powerful the social determinants of health are—barriers to accessing healthcare or medical treatment can greatly impact health outcomes.

“It is great and encouraging news to hear these success stories,” says Health Commissioner Michael J. Nesheiwat, M.D. “However, it is not a reason to let down our guard and become complacent about this infectious disease. Our health department, along with all public health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control, is recommending a ‘re-imagining’ of the holidays, with smaller gatherings and the potential for new traditions.”

A novel, no-risk tradition for people who normally travel for the holidays or host older adults or those with pre-existing conditions is hosting a virtual celebration. Sharing family recipes or mailing cookies or other shelf-stable treats before the virtual holiday allows everyone to have a taste of their holiday favorites. There are many online platforms to play ‘board’ games with far away friends, and there are even ways to watch movies together.

If celebrating the holidays in person, consider lower-risk variations of family traditions. Planning discussions should include wearing masks when not seated at the table, staying six feet away from each other, and strictly limiting contact with others for two weeks prior to the holiday. Small local gatherings can reduce risk, especially if an outdoor venue is utilized. For in-person gatherings, consider seating households at separate tables, or at opposite ends of a long table. As recommended with summer barbecues, each household can bring their own food, or order from a local restaurant and request individual portions.

Staying local is important too, as travel increases the chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Before travelling, check the transmission rates of the planned destination. Positive cases should be decreasing, and the positivity rate should be less than at home. These rates are tracked by Johns Hopkins University and can be found at The risks for travel by car can be reduced by taking a personal vehicle and making as few stops as possible.

Although this holiday season will look different than in years past, joy can exist in new celebrations and being thankful for what continues. Taking extra precautions now will help keep loved ones healthy. For additional ways to celebrate holidays safely, visit the CDC’s website at

The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services, provided directly and through collaboration, include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our county website at; or visit our social media sites @PutnamHealthNY on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.