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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.

As the provincially required measures are no longer in place, individuals are strongly encouraged to consider how to make their own decisions to best protect themselves and those around them from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.

Many events and gatherings include components that have the potential to increase the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19 for instance:

  • Larger social events or ceremonies 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) such as shared meals where face coverings are off.
  • Exposure to many different people particularly indoors, either in large groups OR frequent gatherings with different groups of people.
  • Domestic and international travel particularly where rates of infection are high.
  • Cooler, dryer weather where respiratory infections spread more easily indoors.

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. Here is also some Long-Term Care Home Policy Information to help keep residents safe.

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 (and your close contact).
    • Are you vaccinated? How many doses have you had? Are you up to date with your boosters?
    • Do you or someone you interact with regularly (e.g., children, elder parents) 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. or not being up to date on vaccinations.
  2. Consider the situation/activity
    • Is the setting indoor/outdoor, ventilated, a large open space with room for distance?
    • How crowded will it 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 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 and other respiratory infections, 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 encourages those who wish to wear masks that this is welcome, and informs that masks should be worn or distance should be maintained 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 many 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 and to wear a well fitted mask if they are recovering from an infection, or if they are a close contact of someone with symptoms within the last 10 days.
  • 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.

Individuals who decide to travel internationally must follow all rules and regulations outlined by the federal government.

  • Those who decide to travel are advised to be fully vaccinated with a booster. Check to see what the vaccine requirements are for your International travel including your destination. Boosters are part of ensuring your COVID-19 vaccines are up to date. See the new guidance on staying up to date (fully vaccinated).
  • Regardless of vaccination status, those who travel are strongly encouraged to practice public health measures as appropriate while away and upon their return.
    • This may include wearing a mask or face-covering, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying outdoors as much as possible in order to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
    • Travellers should stay informed about the COVID-19 situation at their destination and follow all local guidance.
    • If any traveller is symptomatic upon return, even with mild symptoms, stay at home and get tested if eligible.
    • Follow Canadian regulations for travel and quarantine
  • Consider whether you, someone you live with, or anyone you plan to visit with is at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, to determine whether to stay overnight in the same residence or to stay elsewhere.
  • Consider and prepare for what you will do if you, or someone else, becomes ill during the visit, even with mild symptoms.
    • What are the plans for self-isolation, health care, and travel home?

If you are uncomfortable with someone you know who isn’t wearing a mask and/or is not keeping 2m of distance, here are some sample statements you can use:

  • “I am trying my best to stay safe because of my health risks, 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 others will wear masks and that I will be able to distance there, 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 large indoor gatherings are just not comfortable 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 wear a well fitted quality mask and move away to protect yourself and those in your life.