WASHINGTON — The new year is right around the corner, and 2020 has been an unusual year with a global pandemic upending almost every holiday plan.
For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance and steps for Americans to take to safely celebrate New Year's Eve.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said the U.S. is at a critical phase of the pandemic, with the worst probably still ahead.
“We have a big problem,” Fauci told The Washington Post. “Look at the numbers — the numbers are really quite dramatic.”
Even as COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the U.S., health officials are still urging Americans to take precautions.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The United States has more than 19 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
As of Monday, the U.S. had more than 333,000 deaths from the virus. Worldwide, there are more than 80 million confirmed cases with more than 1.7 million deaths.
How to make New Year's Eve safer
WASH YOUR HANDS often and with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. The CDC says this should be done after someone has been in a public place, after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water aren't available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol will work just as well.
The CDC encourages everyone to continue wearing cloth masks in public and to continue practicing social distancing. It recommends everyone to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or more from people they don’t live with.
The more people a person is in contact with, the more likely someone is to be exposed to the coronavirus, according to the CDC. It recommends individuals avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces during the holiday.
If anyone thinks they have been exposed during a holiday event, they should take extra precautions like staying home as much as possible for 14 days, avoid being around people and consider getting tested for the coronavirus.
Finally, the CDC urges Americans to receive a flu shot to help protect families. A flu shot can help lower hospital visits and help prevent serious health problems from the flu.
Travel Safety Tips
The CDC said traveling can increase someone's chance of contracting the coronavirus. It said, "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others."
It asks that people don't travel if they're sick, or if they've been in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days. While traveling, the CDC highly recommends everyone wear a mask on public transportation, planes, trains, ships, ferries, taxis and rideshares.
It said airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces.
Holiday Gathering Tips
"Staying home and celebrating with the people you live with or celebrating virtually with loved ones is the safest choice this year," the CDC said.
Health officials recommend celebrating virtually or only with family members, which poses only a low risk of spreading the virus. People who shouldn't attend a New Year's Eve gathering this year include those with or exposed to the coronavirus and people who have an increased risk for severe illness. The CDC explains that large gatherings of families and friends, crowded parties and travel may put people at increased risk for COVID-19.
If someone is hosting a New Year's Eve gathering, even amid the virus, the CDC asks that people consider the following steps to keep everyone safe:
- Try and limit guests to just people in the local area
- Encourage guests to wear masks and use hand sanitizer
- Keep celebrations outdoors, if possible.
- If indoors, open windows and doors. Use a window fan to blow air out, which will pull fresh air in through the open windows
- Ask guests to "strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering"
- Have guests bring their own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils
- Have extra unused masks available for your guests and encourage everyone to wear them inside and outside
The CDC encourages guests to avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors. It recommends keeping music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
If someone develops COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive after a gathering, they should immediately contact the host and others that attended the event.
Alternative Ways to Celebrate
The CDC is encouraging everyone to consider alternative activities to a normal New Year's Eve.
Here's what the guidance suggests:
- Attend a virtual concert or performance
- Plan a virtual countdown to midnight with friends
- Enjoy a virtual dinner or dessert with friends and family
- Decorate, play music, and have a dance party with the people you live with
- Have a pajama party and watch your favorite movies or play games
- Plan a special meal or dessert with your family
- Call, text, or leave a voicemail for family, friends, and neighbors wishing them a happy new year
- Call friends and family to count down to the new year together
- Plan an outdoor neighborhood countdown to midnight
- Watch a livestreamed firework display, concert, First Night event, or other New Year’s programming from your home
- Take care of yourself and do something you enjoy, such as reading a book or taking a walk
- Pick up a special meal from a local restaurant to share with your household
- Plan an outdoor activity with people you live with such as a hike or sledding
- Set new year resolutions
The Associated Press contributed to this report.