Thomas A. Russo, MD, advises it is best for families to postpone spring holiday gatherings due to the heightened risk of spread of COVID-19.

Postponing Spring Holiday Gatherings Best, Russo Says

Published April 6, 2020

Postponing spring holiday family gatherings this year due to the COVID-19 global health pandemic may be the best option, suggests Thomas A. Russo, MD, professor of medicine and chief of infectious diseases.

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While some people might be tempted to bend the rules of social distancing and host or attend a family gathering to celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan, Russo says that is not advisable unless a rigorous plan is put in place.

Even then, the risk will not be zero, so the importance of the gathering needs to be balanced with potential consequences, especially if some family members are vulnerable and are at risk for a bad outcome if they become infected with the new coronavirus.

Asymptomatic Transmission is Possible

“A common question I’m getting is, ‘I want to have a small group gathering for Easter, can I do it safely?’” says Russo, a physician with UBMD Internal Medicine. “The answer is no, you can’t do so with 100 percent certainty.”

The reason, he says, is that asymptomatic transmission of the new coronavirus makes it impossible to be sure that you are not infected. As a result, one can minimize, but not completely eliminate, risk.

“It is possible that someone was infected but not symptomatic. That person could be infectious, even after a 14-day quarantine, because we still don’t know how long someone can shed infectious particles after infection,” explains Russo, who is also a physician with the VA Western New York Healthcare System.

“So if you have close contact, kiss or eat from the same dish, or use the same dishes or share food, the virus could be transmitted from an asymptomatic person in that manner,” he says. “It is also possible, albeit rare, that the incubation period could extend beyond 14 days.”

Risks Can Be Minimized, But Not Eliminated

For those individuals who are determined to gather together to break fast on Ramadan, or break out the butter lambs or tzimmes anyway, there are ways to minimize the dangers.

Russo offers the following tips:

  • no party member can attend the gathering if they have been previously infected or had close contact with someone who was infected
  • all party members need to rigorously quarantine themselves for 14 days — no trips to the store or interactions with anyone else — this is critical and mandatory
  • if anyone develops symptoms during the 14-day quarantine period, then that individual and all members from that household cannot participate in the gathering
  • during the gathering, adopt an in-house distancing strategy — it would be prudent to have people remain at least 6 feet apart
  • no physical contact, such as kissing, talking in close proximity (people all tend to spit when they talk), or sharing of utensils or food from someone else’s plate
  • maintain rigorous hand hygiene, especially after contacting high touch areas such as phones, refrigerator door handles, TV remotes, etc.

“It’s impossible to drive the risk to zero, but these strategies will minimize risk,” Russo notes.