A hand squeezes liquid from a tube into an at-home COVID-19 test kit.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • Rapid tests before gathering can help protect you and your guests.
  • Use ventilation and filtration tools to reduce indoor COVID-19 transmission.
  • Guests who are immunocompromised or at high risk may benefit from extra precautions.

Planning a holiday party can be stressful with all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Ensuring that your gathering is COVID-safe requires a whole separate to-do list. We’ve compiled some essential tips for hosting a festive celebration free of respiratory illnesses.

Encourage everyone to take a rapid test before gathering.

All guests should take a rapid test right before attending the event. As the host, you can remind guests that they can get COVID-19 tests for free through their insurance plan or at community health centers. It’s important to check the expiration date of these tests to ensure an accurate result.

Anyone who receives a positive test should stay home, as they are most likely infectious. You may want to ask guests who test negative but are experiencing symptoms to stay home as well because rapid tests do not detect all COVID-19 infections and other viruses, such as flu or RSV, could be the culprit.

To be extra safe, guests should test throughout the week leading up to the event. Taking two tests 48 hours apart reduces the risk of getting a false negative. If you were exposed but have no symptoms, the FDA recommends taking three tests, each 48 hours apart.

Use ventilation and filtration tools to reduce indoor COVID-19 transmission.

Both ventilation and filtration help improve indoor air quality, which in turn reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission during gatherings. Ventilation moves outdoor air into a space, while filtration removes unwanted particles from the air.

Opening the windows is a simple but powerful way to improve ventilation. You can further increase airflow by setting up a fan in front of the window, facing outward, or by turning on exhaust fans in the house.

In terms of filtration, there are several tools you can use. One of the most cost-effective options is building a Corsi-Rosenthal box for the main gathering room. These DIY air filters can capture about 85 percent of unwanted particles from the air. You can find instructions in English and Spanish here for how to build them.

HEPA air purifiers are another filtration option. They are more expensive than Corsi-Rosenthal boxes but are considered the gold-standard air filter for their ability to remove more than 99 percent of unwanted particles. When choosing a HEPA air purifier, take into consideration whether it is suitable for the size of your main gathering room. This air purifier is a popular option, and this one is recommended for larger rooms.

Be considerate of guests who are immunocompromised or at high risk.

People who are immunocompromised or at high risk often cannot afford to abandon precautions and risk infection. Infants and young kids are also particularly vulnerable to sickness from flu and RSV this season, as we’ve seen from the concerning number of kids hospitalized for these two respiratory illnesses over the past month.

If you have guests attending who are immunocompromised or vulnerable to severe disease, it’s important to check in with them and see what you can do to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable. You may want to limit the event to people who have received their flu shot and updated COVID-19 booster, which has been shown to strengthen protection against Omicron subvariants compared to the original COVID-19 vaccines. You could also consider asking guests to wear N95 masks or social distance in areas where ventilation is not possible, even though it may be awkward. 

Remember, the goal is for everyone to enjoy the festivities and return home safe and healthy.