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Social Gatherings and Holidays

What is a Social Gathering?

It is strongly recommended that we only have close contact (hugs, no masks or physical distancing) with members of our own household. As of September 19, 2020, the Province has reduced the limit on size of private gatherings to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. These limits apply to social gatherings, functions, parties, dinners, BBQs or wedding receptions held in private residences, backyards, parks and other recreational areas. It is important to continue to be COVID-SMART!

It is strongly recommended that we only have close contact (hugs, no masks or physical distancing) with members of our own household. If you live alone, you may consider having close contact with one other household. We are recommending people limit social gatherings at this time. If you choose to have a small social gathering with people outside your household, be sure to stay #COVIDSmart and keep it within Provincial gathering limits. Here are some tips to reduce your risk:

  • Plan to be outdoors as much as possible
  • Open windows for increased air circulation
  • Have people bring their own food and drinks or plan to individually portion food to avoid buffet style serving. This means fewer shared-touch surfaces, and less chances of close contact.
  • Have hand sanitizer readily available
  • Frequently clean/wipe down high touch surfaces like doorknobs and bathrooms
  • Set out seating to encourage physical distancing (2 meters or more between households)
  • Avoid sitting at a table with people from different households as most tables are not big enough for physical distancing
  • Create an understanding that if you will be removing your masks to eat or drink that this only happens when people are seated and distanced.

Consider the Risks

When deciding on what activities to participate in, here are some things to consider:

  • How busy or crowded will it be? Will it be easy to stay 2m/6ft away from those you don’t live with? Outdoor events are lower risk than indoors.
  • Are face coverings/masks encouraged? It is recommended to wear a face covering even when outdoors if it is a large gathering.
  • Will there be alcohol? Consuming alcohol, even small amounts, can lower our inhibitions and we may take fewer precautions.
  • Has there been an increase in cases locally? Avoid traveling to or from areas with many active cases.

Check out this poster on COVID-19 & Activities

*Note: People gathering indoors for religious services, rites or ceremonies, and wedding ceremonies or funeral services, can continue to fill up to 30 per cent of the capacity of the particular venue, as introduced in Stage 2. For more information on religious ceremonies – see the “Places of Worship” tab on our COVID-19 and Businesses page.

What is a Social Circle?

October 2, 2020 – The Province of Ontario has paused the idea of social circles and advises that all Ontarians allow close contact only with people living in their own household and maintain two metres physical distancing from everyone else. Individuals who live alone may consider having close contact with another household.

What About the Holidays?

It is best to plan to celebrate holidays with those in your own household. Consider safer options for connecting with others over the holidays.

Guidance for Holiday Celebrations During a Pandemic

Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or more… this year it is going to look different. Different doesn’t have to be bad though. It’s all about framing expectations and being creative, to make this holiday season meaningful and memorable.

The rate of COVID cases and regional restrictions could change before the holidays. For this reason, we encourage people to stay up-to-date through our social media channels and website when planning or attending events. Here are 2 things to focus on this year to celebrate and still stay safe:

  1. Make it More Intimate – With large gatherings on the ‘naughty-list’ – think small this year. Instead of large group lunches, dinners or parties, plan more personal ‘Secret-Santa’ type ideas that could involve random acts of kindness.
  2. Make it About Others – 2020 is the perfect time to think about those who are struggling. Challenge work-mates and family members to donate funds, gifts, food or other supplies to local charities. (see the ‘Tips for Giving’ tab below)

Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently careful to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread. In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home can increase the levels of risk. Here are some ideas on how to modify some of our traditions:

Instead of this: Large team pot luck or restaurant lunch

Try this: Order take-out from everyone’s favourite local place and:

  • Space out the seats in the lunch room or bigger room in your office so everyone is 2m apart (may need to schedule in shifts or different days if there is not enough space).
  • If some team members are working from home, book a virtual video meeting so you can still enjoy the social connections.

Instead of this: White Elephant gift exchange where people gather in a large group and make a game of stealing gifts from each other.

Try this:

  • Draw names virtually (Secret Santa style) to still enjoy the gift giving and receiving without compromising physical distancing.
  • Make this year about others. Partner with a local Long-Term Care home or retirement residence to give virtual messages/letters to the residents.

Instead of this: Office parties

Try this: Make this the year that you do something different. Try one of these ideas:

  • Secret virtual messages, since many colleagues could be working from home, this could be festive messages, photos/videos, positive notes and compliments.
  • Office/work team fundraisers for local charities. (see the ‘Tips for Giving’ tab below)
  • Holiday sweater/poem/story/photo contests – find a way to make 2020 even more memorable!
  • Elf on the shelf story sharing, OR a creative re-invention of COVID elf on the shelf.
  • Christmas recipe exchange – creating a virtual office Christmas cookbook with everyone’s favorite recipes.

Instead of this: Family dinner

Try this: Arrange a timed dinner with family via video calling so you can virtually eat together, regardless of location – across the country, with those in care, or even internationally.

Instead of this: Holiday baking with friends or family.

Try this: Make the same recipe with family or friends while video conferencing – like a virtual cooking show.

Instead of this: Holiday in-person visits

Try this:

  • Make time for virtual coffee or tea dates with friends and family.
  • Plan to go walking or skating outdoors.
  • Virtual countdown calendars… why not send a message (email, text or DM) to someone each day or week leading up to the holidays to keep things exciting.
  • If mailing things, plan to send gifts or care packages to friends and family early as the post office could be extra busy.

Instead of this: Family in person gift exchange

Try this:

  • Mail or drop of gifts on doorstep.
  • Consider donating to local charities instead. (see the ‘Tips for Giving’ tab below)

Instead of this: A Holiday Parade

Try this: Do a tour of local decorations. Map out driving routes to see festive displays at homes and businesses.

Instead of this: Community gatherings with donations for food drives or other donation events

Try this:

  • Plan food drives to be no contact with drop off sites and physical distancing and masks for volunteers with small numbers (preferably the same household members) working on the food baskets.
  • Doorstep drop-off family gift baskets/snowsuits.
    Note: ensure proper hand washing and cleaning is in place when handling food or when donating used items.

Instead of this: Holiday concerts

Try this: Plan a virtual concert where physical distancing is in place for performers (minimizing the numbers as much as possible), and extra measures are followed if people are singing or playing wind instruments (like having solos).

2020 is the year of ‘Giving’. Refresh some holiday traditions to include safe ways to help those who are struggling during this pandemic. Challenge work-mates, family and friends to donate funds or fill a basket for your favourite charity. Stretching this out over time helps spread the holiday cheer, makes it easier to manage and allows more people to get involved.

If partaking as a group, be sure to plan safe ways to work together so there are minimal shared touch surfaces and physical distancing is maintained between people in different households. Each household could fill the basket with a few items then pass it to the next (doorstep drop off), and the last one can deliver it to the charity.

Below are some ideas of places to donate and other resources. Visit their websites to see lists of needed items.

Remember – donations of funds instead of supplies is always welcome and is a safe, simple way to help others.

IF you do decide to plan a small gathering, here are some things to consider:

Restrictions can change quickly. Currently, the private social gathering limits are 10 indoors or 25 outdoors. Be sure to check the latest status of our region before attending or planning any events. Any gatherings of people outside your household are higher risk for spreading COVID-19.

  • Avoid having people travel from areas with High COVID-19 cases to areas of low cases.
  • Check local rules for isolation or travel restrictions. Is someone coming from out of country? Are you planning to travel to another province? How will this affect the holiday if your guests must isolate from you for 14 days or if you have to isolate when you arrive at your destination.
  • Consider the mode of travel and the risks associated. Plan accordingly to take extra care to wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands.

Vulnerable guests:

  • Family members and friends who are older adults or people with certain medical conditions who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID should avoid gatherings outside their household.

Number of guests:

  • More people means more risk. Current limits for private gatherings are 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors and must include adequate space for physical distancing of at least 2m between different households.

Do you know how careful your guests are?

  • Individuals, who do not consistently adhere to COVID smart rules, pose more risk than those who do. If you know of guests who do not follow these rules you may want to consider the risk of inviting them. It may be easier not to gather with them in person, than to try and ask them to follow COVID rules after they are there. Another way would be to ensure all guests are aware of the rules before coming and agree to follow them.

Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor ventilation (for example, small enclosed spaces with no outside air), pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. So plan shorter visits outdoors, or if indoors try to improve air ventilation by opening windows and ensure guests are physically distanced and wearing masks as much as possible. Setting a clear end time for the gathering will help to reduce the risk as well.

OK you have sorted out who is coming, when and where, now here are some more ways to reduce the risk at gatherings:

  • Ensure those who are sick stay home. COVID-19 symptoms are often similar to a cold so ask guests to do a self-screen for symptoms before they arrive and make it easy for people to opt-out at the last minute.
  • Masks: Set clear expectations that face coverings should be worn indoors and whenever near others outside. Ask that guests only remove face coverings when seated while eating/drinking. You could provide holiday themed masks for people to wear to make this more fun. Having prompts of when to put on and take off masks could help as well in case people forget in all of the fun and excitement.
  • Physical Distancing: Ask guests to keep 2m apart from those outside their household. This might mean setting up seating areas for household groupings that are properly spaced out.
  • Location: Gather outdoors as much as possible. Even in the winter – a good bonfire can be a great way to catch up with friends. If indoors, keep windows open whenever possible. 
  • Timing: Keep gatherings short. Spending many hours indoors increases the risk of spreading the virus – even with masks on. It may be good to set a start and end time for your visit so you can make this clear ahead of time.
  • Food: Avoid buffet style food service or anything that would require shared touch of serving dishes or utensils. Designate one person to serve the food while following food safety practices.
  • Hand Hygiene: Have hand sanitizer or hand washing stations readily available for guests, and frequently wipe down shared touch surfaces like door handles, light switches and faucets.
  • NOTE: Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures. Just one more thing to keep in mind when you are planning.

Remember to: Stay flexible and have a back-up plan for a virtual celebration in case things change at the last minute. Set clear expectations for you and your guests:

  • Be clear about your expectations around mask wearing, start and end times, distancing measures, and other details you have planned.
  • Be clear that it’s OK to cancel at the last minute if someone is not feeling well or if risk levels change.
  • Have an alternative planned ahead of time so people feel less pressure and are comfortable with the plans in case things change.

Birthdays, Retirements, Graduations or Anniversaries

  • Join your family and friends on Zoom and enjoy a meal virtually
  • Send a video to your loved one with a celebratory message
  • Make them a gift or card and put this surprise in their mailbox for them to find.
  • Arrange an online party with family and friends to celebrate your event
  • Plan an intimate celebration with members of your household.
  • Celebrate outdoors with a hike on a trail or a family walk in the park and remember to maintain physical distance and wear a mask when you are around members outside of your household.