As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to mount, the New Jersey Department of Health issued guidelines for the winter holiday and celebrations designed to keep residents safe this December.
State health officials offered some guidance early Monday, but later released a full list of recommendations for responsible holiday gatherings and activities.
“With increases cases, we must continue to maintain our vigilance against COVID-19 and celebrate safely and responsibly to ensure healthy holidays,” said Dr. Ed Lifshitz, medical director of the state Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Service, said Monday at the state’s coronavirus briefing in Trenton.
The New Jersey Department of Health offered the following recommendations:
— If possible, limit indoor gatherings to individuals that reside within the immediate household for all seasonal holiday celebrations, including (but not limited to) Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saint Nicholas Day, Las Posadas, Winter Solstice, Pancha Ganapati, and New Year’s Eve. People should also consider live streaming celebrations/events so they may be viewed safely by others.
— People who are quarantining or isolating should not attend any outdoor or indoor gathering and should complete the recommended period of time for the quarantine/isolation to protect others. This includes people who are awaiting test results.
— Do not host or attend gatherings with anyone who has COVID-19 or anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
— If hosting a small holiday gathering, it should be small and limited to immediate household members. Current indoor gathering limits are no more than 10 persons, with limited exceptions.
— Utilize single-use serving ware, including cups, plates and utensils and or limit the number of people who touch common items such as serving utensils and barware.
— Make sure everyone washes their hands before preparing, serving, and/or eating food and make hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) available for all to use.
— Avoid buffets and self-serve drink stations and use no-touch trash cans if possible.
— Seating arrangements should encourage social distancing by maintaining 6 feet between individuals who are not in the same household and may include sitting at multiple tables spread throughout the home.
— Guests should wear masks when not eating and drinking and commonly touched surfaces and areas should be cleaned often. Hosts should also have disinfecting wipes in the bathroom for guests to wipe down toilet handles, faucet knobs/handles and doorknobs.
— Make sure each bathroom has soap and consider single-use hand towels instead of cloth towels in the bathroom.
Holiday celebrations and parades
— Tree lightings, menorah lightings, and other holiday gatherings should be held outdoors.
— Holiday parades are discouraged, but if one is organized, officials should consider limiting in-person attendance and instead having the parade live-streamed so the public can view it virtually. Parades must also abide by the current limits on outdoor gatherings and observe social distancing and all participants should wear masks.
— Organizers should designate areas for spectators to view the parade with markings on the ground to facilitate social distancing and consider using open-top vehicles and floats instead of having individuals march in large groups.
— Parade organizers must maintain a list of all participants’ names and phone numbers, for possible contact tracing and this list should be turned over to the local health department to assist with contact tracing.
— Parade participants should not be permitted to throw items from their floats or cars to spectators.
— As an alternative to a traditional Santa route, consider having Santa ride around neighborhoods in an open-top vehicle so he can wave to spectators. Spectators should stay in their homes or within their yards/sidewalks. Neighborhoods should be notified of the time that Santa will arrive to avoid potential clustering of spectators in anticipation of the event. Santa should also not be permitted to throw or toss items from the vehicle.
Mall and indoor Santa visits
— In order to keep families, children and employees safe this holiday season, it is strongly recommended that people consider alternatives to visiting Santa at indoor locations including malls, churches and stores to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure or transmission.
— As a safer alternative, consider virtual visits or outdoor socially distanced visits with Santa.
— If malls and other indoor locations still chose to offer in-person visits with Santa, it should be a “touchless” experience. Santa, staff, and guests should practice social distancing and must wear cloth or disposable masks at all times. Guests under the age of two are not required to wear a mask. Visits should be limited in time to reduce interactions between people. Reservations should be made in advance of in-person visits to discourage crowding around the Santa display area and to provide adequate time between guests for cleaning and sanitizing any high-touch surfaces.
— Guests should not arrive early for their appointment and guests without reservations should be turned away and should not be permitted to take pictures and should not be permitted to wait around to see if an opening becomes available.
— Children should not be permitted to sit on Santa’s lap at any time and Santa may be stationed in a chair behind a plexiglass shield in an open area to allow for good air flow. If using a plexiglass shield, it should be compliant with fire safety and building code requirements and should be high enough to stand above the tallest seated person at the event.
— The organizer should ensure that there are markings on the floor at least six feet apart to promote social distancing in and around the Santa display area.
— Decorative enclosed structures, such as Santa’s workshop, are not recommended, as these limit air flow.
— No food should be handed out by Santa or staff and they should also practice good hand hygiene. Hand sanitizer should be available at the Santa display area for staff and guests.
— Santa, staff, and guests experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should not participate in the event. Anyone (staff and guests) told to quarantine or isolate should not report to work/the mall until the end of the quarantine/isolation period.
Choirs and caroling
— Because it is a high-risk activity, singing poses an increased risk for transmission of the COVID-19 virus so it is recommended that people consider virtual signing events whenever possible. The virus may be transmitted via singing even if performers do not have symptoms. Large performances have the potential to be super spreader events.
— Performances must adhere to the latest limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and singing groups must be socially distanced from each other and from their audience during each performance. Singing groups that perform in public must be at least 10 feet away from others or have a physical barrier between them and the audience.
— Audiences may be indoors or outdoors and outdoor performances are recommended over indoor performances. Performers and guests must wear cloth or disposable masks. Musicians playing brass or woodwind instruments that require use of their mouth must wear a mask when not actively playing their instruments.
— Organizers of a scheduled singing event must conduct health checks for all live performers prior to the event. Any performer who is showing symptoms of COVID-19, who was exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, or who was told to isolate or quarantine, should not be permitted to perform.
— Locations for indoor performances should not include places where there are cases among high risk or vulnerable populations such as long term care facilities. Certain facilities may be subject to additional restrictions such as long term care facilities that are currently experiencing an outbreak or have had an outbreak within the last 14 days. They may not invite performers for indoor performances. Performers may sing outdoors where they may be seen/heard from inside the facility.
— Travel outside of your home should be limited.
— Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transportation and rest stops are all places where travelers can be exposed to COVID-19 so it is recommended that non-essential travel be limited this holiday season.
— Instead of traveling, it is recommended that you stay home and connect with family and friends via video conferencing technology, such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or Google Meetings.
Winter holiday villages/flea markets/stores
— All vendors and organizers should observe social distancing and place markings on the ground to promote social distancing among shoppers and masks must be worn by all staff, sellers and shoppers.
— Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be made available at multiple stations.
— Organizers should consider offering reservations for limited numbers of individuals per time slot to help reduce crowds.
— Winter holiday villages/flea markets should be held outdoors, when possible and officials should consider offering sidewalk shopping outside of stores to minimize the number of indoor shoppers. Stores may set up tables and racks outdoors, weather permitting. Outdoor food stands must observe current outdoor dining guidance.
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Chris Sheldon may be reached at [email protected].