It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2020, but with more than 19 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., New Year’s Eve isn’t reason to discard precautionary measures. If anything, says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, it’s a night that warrants heightened awareness.
“New Year’s parties traditionally have been parties of great cheer and abandon. People abandon their inhibitions and they imbibe a drink, or three. And that’s not a circumstance in which social distancing and mask wearing are going to survive very long,” Schaffner tells Yahoo Life. “So we’re very concerned that people — if they have these parties — inadvertently will invite the virus to the party.”
He says that in those cases, the “celebrants will take the virus home and spread it to their families and neighbors,” which could make an already exploding pandemic even worse. “These parties could really be accelerators of the spread of the virus,” says Schaffner. “They’re indoors, and [involve] prolonged close contact with people. They are the exact environment this virus uses to be very contagious.”
In an effort to keep people safe this upcoming holiday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines outlining low-risk ways to ring in 2021 — and warning against those that are most dangerous. “The safest way to celebrate the new year is to celebrate at home with the people who live with you or virtually with friends and family,” the CDC’s guidance reads. “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”
Here’s what else you need to know.
Before traveling, consider how quickly the virus is spreading in your area and your destination
The CDC explicitly discourages traveling for the holiday and instead recommends postponing. But for those who are still planning to travel, CDC experts suggest asking some important questions, including: “Are cases high or increasing in your community or at your destination?,” “Are you, someone in your household or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?” and “Do your plans include traveling by bus, train or airplane, which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?”
The question of whether cases are spiking either in your place of residence or in the area you’re traveling to is crucial. “The more cases in your community or at your destination, the more likely you are to get and spread COVID-19 as a result of your door-to-door travel,” the CDC writes. To check how cases are spreading in your area, consult the CDC COVID Data Tracker or another platform such as COVID Exit Strategy.
Schaffner adds that anyone who travels should quarantine upon returning, but if that is not feasible, to “keep a sharp eye on yourself and others in your traveling group. And if they do develop symptoms, that’s the time to as quickly as possible put them in isolation and get a test.”
Avoid secret indoor New Year’s parties at all costs
Beverly Hills restaurant La Scala has received backlash for including a note in recent delivery meals that seemed to suggest that the famed Italian establishment planned to host a secret, indoor NYE party (the restaurant has since clarified that it planned to host one only in the event that the city allowed it). But it’s not the only place that’s been accused of plotting a Prohibition era-type gathering. Multiple “Instagram party promoters” have reportedly been sending invitations for indoor parties slated to include 1,000-plus guests.
Schaffner says big parties like these should be avoided. “Traditional means of celebrating should be tempered,” he says. “Keep the group as small as possible, and don’t pack your house with people. Celebrating with only a few makes it easier for much of the evening to be separate.” The CDC agrees, advising people to “avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces” no matter what. “The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19,” the CDC writes. “Avoid gatherings and celebrations with a lot of people that make staying 6 feet apart from those who don’t live with you difficult.”
Get creative by attending a virtual concert or having a party with the people in your household
Although it may be disappointing to miss a glitzy New Year’s Eve celebration, the CDC says you don’t have to cancel the fun entirely. Among the ideas the organizations provides are digital celebrations (“attend a virtual concert or performance, plan a virtual countdown or enjoy a virtual dinner”), New Year’s parties with those you live with (“decorate, play music ... have a pajama party or play games”) or enjoying New Year’s programming virtually (“watch a livestreamed firework display or the Times Square ball drop”).
If celebrating with people outside your household, wear a mask
For those who decide to take the risk of celebrating with people outside their household, the CDC’s main advice is to wear a face covering — one that has two or more layers and covers your mouth and nose. There’s good reason for the advice. One report by the World Health Organization this summer suggested that wearing a mask may reduce the spread of the virus by as much as 82 percent.
On top of covering your face, the CDC recommends staying at least 6 feet away from those outside your household and, if inside, opening windows and doors to improve ventilation.
Schaffner says those who are disappointed about the need to modify plans should focus on what’s to come. “This doesn’t sound like a traditional New Year’s party, but it’s not a traditional New Year’s,” he says. “If we’re more restrained at this New Year’s Eve celebration, perhaps next year can be a real celebration.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
Read more from Yahoo Life:
Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.