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Social Gatherings and Holidays

Navigating this next phase of the pandemic:

Although the COVID-19 situation is improving, COVID-19 is still circulating in the community with both hospitalizations and deaths occurring in our most vulnerable populations.

With the lifting of provincially required measures, individuals are strongly encouraged to consider how to make their own decisions to best protect themselves and those around them.

Many events and gatherings include components that have the potential to increase COVID-19 transmission including:

  • Social gatherings in indoor settings over an extended period of time where droplets can accumulate in the air, particularly when masks are not worn. See this fact sheet if you are planning an indoor meeting.
  • Activities where there will be close contact (within 2 meters)
  • Shared meals where face coverings are removed in order to eat and drink;
  • Larger public events or ceremonies; and/or
  • Domestic and international travel.

Recognize and support the health of those who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19. You may need to ask so that you know who is more vulnerable or who may be living with or caring for someone vulnerable who needs a bit more protection (e.g., with masks and distancing). Supporting family and friends to find ways to keep everyone safe will keep your gathering more comfortable for everyone to enjoy this time together.

Staying home when you are not feeling well helps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

In addition to the guidance on when masks should be worn (see our mask page for details), here are three things people can consider when deciding if they should wear a mask:

  1. Consider your own risk.
    • This can include the risk of those who you interact with regularly as well – like children you care for or elder parents you visit frequently.
    • Are you vaccinated? How many doses have you had? (two doses plus a booster provides much better protection against Omicron transmission)
      • Do you or one of your close contacts have any underlying conditions that makes them vulnerable to getting COVID-19 or having severe outcomes from COVID-19? This could include medications or conditions that lower your immune system or general conditions that put body systems at-risk like heart disease, asthma, etc.
  2. Consider the situation/activity
    • Is the setting indoor/outdoor, ventilated, a large open space with room for distance?
    • How crowded it will be?
    • Does it involve close contact with others?
    • Will it be for a long time indoors with a group of people?
  3. Consider the people you will be with:
    • Are any of them vulnerable to severe outcomes or do they regularly care for someone who is?
    • Will there be a lot of strangers where some may be vulnerable?

Things are not the same for everyone, consider each situation and make the decision that is right for you. Treat others with kindness and respect while considering those who are vulnerable.

Here are some example scenarios that might help guide you in your decisions:

  • Jane visits her father in long term care weekly. Because of this, she wants to reduce any risk that she may be exposed to COVID-19, get it, and unknowingly expose her father. Jane has decided that she will continue wearing a mask in public.
  • Alex has decided they aren’t at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, but still doesn’t want to take the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 to others. They have decided to wear a mask in large, crowded settings when they don’t know what the risk of others is.
  • Raj doesn’t feel he is at risk and doesn’t have anyone he interacts with regularly who is either. He has chosen to not wear a mask in public in most cases. But tomorrow he is having an in-person work meeting with someone who lives with their elderly grandmother. He is going to wear a mask during the meeting to help put his co-worker’s mind at ease.
  • Betty is part of a church choir and there are many seniors in the group, some likely have health conditions so you discuss with the group and decide to all wear masks indoors, and distance from the audience to protect the vulnerable people in the congregation and choir.
  • Stephane goes to a grocery store and doesn’t feel he is at risk and doesn’t have anyone he interacts with regularly who is either. He decides not to wear a mask but maintains distance from strangers while he is there as some may be vulnerable.
  • Dimitry is planning a party to celebrate Grandma’s 99th birthday. He decides to plan this in a large building where you can open windows and have spaced seating to allow people to distance (as many family members are older and some are vulnerable) so everyone can feel safe and enjoy themselves. He informs everyone that masks will be worn when not seated and eating, and when visiting Grandma in particular.
  • Carole wants to go to a local show but she has COPD and is worried that it will not be safe. She decides to visit a theatre where they still require masks and she wears her N95.

If you are planning an event, to make the gathering more safe and comfortable for everyone consider the following:

  • Use a large room with plenty of space for everyone to spread out and encourage physical distancing. You can set up seating to allow for distance between families or individuals and if you plan for meals and refreshments plan it while seated.
  • Encourage family and friends to be up to date with vaccines/boosters prior to the event.
  • In the invitation ask people: to check for symptoms before they come and stay home if they have any.
  • Encourage an atmosphere of respect and kindness regarding masks
  • Have hand sanitizer readily available and encourage respiratory etiquette (sneezing/coughing into your elbow).
  • Hold events outdoors where possible.
  • Increase ventilation by opening a window, maintain your HVAC system, consider installing HEPA filters appropriately sized for your space.
  • Make a list of guests attending in case you need to reach out to anyone after, if someone tests positive afterwards and was infectious at your event.
  • If you choose to serve food or drinks at your party, follow food safety measures:
    • Wash your hands before and frequently during preparation and serving; and;
    • Offer ways for everyone wash their hands before and after eating.

If someone you know isn’t wearing a mask and is not keeping 2m of distance:

  • “I am trying my best to stay safe during this time, if we aren’t both wearing a mask then I do not feel comfortable coming within 2m.”
  • “Hey friend, that is a bit close for my comfort, scooch back a bit, a little more, little more…there we go”
  • “I’m not expecting you to put on a Hazmat Suit – but at least pop on your mask if you are going to be that close.”
  • Make it about them. “I feel like I have some exposure because I work outside the home and I want to be sure you are protected – so I’ll stand back here to protect you.”

If you are invited to a gathering or event and don’t feel comfortable attending:

  • “Sorry, I can’t, I need be careful for ______________”
  • “I can’t be sure that everyone will wear masks and be able to remain 2m apart, so it feels too risky for me.”
  • “I already feel like I have some risk because of my job – so I’m trying to reduce it in all the other ways I can.”
  • “I’m trying to limit the number of gatherings and contacts each week and already have a couple planned – can we connect over video or phone instead?”
  • “Great idea – but let’s do it outside just the two/three/four of us instead!”
  • “I’d love to, but indoor gatherings are just too risky for me right now.”

If chatting with friends or acquaintances in person you can reduce your risk by reducing your time of exposure and having an excuse to leave after a short time (less than 15 minutes). We can control our own behaviour. If someone is around you and not wearing a mask, you can move away to protect yourself and those in your life.