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We are planning a family reunion for the holidays: how to do it?

Text updated on 2020-11-24

Spending a holiday with several generations and several households is possible, but it requires precautions. The risk of contamination can be reduced by spending shared time outdoors or in ventilated rooms as much as possible, by avoiding approaching, touching and contaminating each other when eating, playing, using the bathroom, and by wearing a mask.

The summer and festive seasons are good times to reunite grandparents, children, and grandchildren. When several households meet, precautions must be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The main risk is that people who are not (or not yet) symptomatic may infect others. Here are a few ways to reduce the risk of contamination and to help you have a safe and successful reunion.

1. Reduce the risks of contamination before your arrival: during the 2 weeks preceding the reunion, take particular care not to be contaminated, avoid numerous meetings and close physical contact with others, and strictly respect the gestures that are barriers to entry.

2. If the journey involves risks of contamination (train, plane, boat, bus): respect a quarantine on arrival.

To make sure you don't pass on the coronavirus to your loved ones, the quarantine must last 14 days. If no one shows any symptoms during these two weeks, precautions can cease within the group and everyone can interact safely.

All new arrivals will respect the quarantine and take all the precautions described below before being included in the group. Those who have contacts outside the group (shopping, outings, activities) will take care not to contaminate themselves.

3. If a quarantine is not possible: follow the precautions below and protect elderly or vulnerable people first.

Whenever possible, interact with others outside or with the windows wide open. Ventilating active living areas reduces the risk of aerosol contamination. See the question Is the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus transmitted by aerosols?. It's better to wear a mask and an extra sweater than to catch COVID-19 !

Ideally, separate bedrooms, bathrooms, and toilets between households, or at least between those who are vulnerable and those who are not (see the question How do you live with a vulnerable person?). Make sure you wash your hands regularly, avoid hugs, and maintain a distance of at least one meter between you (see question on distances).

Be careful when preparing meals (see question How to organize a meal at home without risk for the guests?). The most important thing is to eat outside, that the cook respects strict hygiene rules, that the table is wide enough so as not to be too close to each person facing another, and long enough so as not to be too close to our neighbour.

For sanitary facilities, it is preferable to disinfect them after each use. Put a little bleach or a chlorine tablet in the toilet bowl and close the lid before flushing, then spray a little 70% alcohol on your hands, on the toilet seat, and finally on flush mechanism. When you leave the toilet: remember to disinfect with alcohol the inside and then outside door handles. Leave the toilet door wide open in order to ventilate. Avoid going to the toilet just after another person if they are not from the same household (see question Can the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus be caught by going to the toilet?)

If elderly parents want to hug/cuddle their children or grandchildren or vice versa, consider masked hugs to limit the risk of contamination.

4. Provide sleeping arrangements where only people from the same household are in the same room.

It is advisable to be very careful with shared rooms: sleeping or staying for a long time in a closed place (room or tent) with someone from another household should be avoided. Prefer separate rooms. Keep the windows open when sharing a room. Pay particular attention to public places such as restaurants, elevators, shared bathrooms.

5. Prefer outdoor and non-contact activities.

Leisure activities encouraged: individual, if collective, practice outdoors and without contact. For racket-based games, disinfect balls and sleeves between each player.

Leisure activities to be done with vigilance: card games and board games. Wash your hands regularly.

6. Appoint a hygiene officer.

A manager can explain to everyone to watch their health: the slightest "cold" or symptom should be reported to the family. The same applies if you learn that someone you met just before the trip is suspected of having a COVID-19.

The person in charge will regularly spray with 70% alcohol, or wipe with an alcoholic wipe the door handles, stair railings, fridge, and coffee machine handles and other surfaces where the virus is transmitted (see question How can we improve the hygiene of our environment?).

The hygiene manager will encourage everyone to wash their hands properly and often. He or she will also check that the rooms are well ventilated.

If the group is large and the task complex, do not hesitate to make a task checklist like in hotels and airports: one line per task to be monitored, and a distribution of tasks among the group so that the person in charge of a particular task (disinfecting, for example) indicates the date, time, and initials when the task is done ;-)

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According to data from the hospital in Guangzhou, China, the symptoms COVID-19 appear on average 5 days after infection.

He, X., Lau, E. H., Wu, P., Deng, X., Wang, J., Hao, X., ... & Mo, X. (2020). Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19. Nature medicine, 26(5), 672-675.

From the time of infection to the first symptoms, an average of 4 to 5 days elapsed according to data from Tianjin in China and Singapore.

Ganyani, T., Kremer, C., Chen, D., Torneri, A., Faes, C., Wallinga, J., & Hens, N. (2020). Estimating the generation interval for COVID-19 based on symptom onset data. medRxiv.

A meta-analysis of 5 studies estimates the mean incubation time to be 5.1 days.

He, W., Yi, G. Y., & Zhu, Y. (2020). Estimation of the basic reproduction number, average incubation time, asymptomatic infection rate, and case fatality rate for COVID-19: Meta-analysis and sensitivity analysis. Journal of Medical Virology.

In one restaurant, a pre-symptomatic person with COVID-19 contaminated at least two other people more than 2 meters away, who were eating at two adjacent tables. Note that the space was enclosed and that ventilation must have contributed to the spread of the viral particles.

Lu, J., Gu, J., Li, K., Xu, C., Su, W., Lai, Z., ... & Yang, Z. (2020). COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(7).

Several cases COVID-19 in January-February 2020 in South Korea were due to contamination following a family meal or at a restaurant/café.

Kong, I., Park, Y., Woo, Y., Lee, J., Cha, J., Choi, J., ... & Kim, T. (2020). Early epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 28 cases of coronavirus disease in South Korea. Osong Public Health Res Perspect, 11(1), 8-14.

Several people from the same family were contaminated after two family reunion dinners.

Ye, F., Xu, S., Rong, Z., Xu, R., Liu, X., Deng, P., ... & Xu, X. (2020). Delivery of infection from asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 in a familial cluster. International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Several cases of contamination at family meals in China.

Liu, Y., Eggo, R. M., & Kucharski, A. J. (2020). Secondary attack rate and superspreading events for SARS-CoV-2. The Lancet, 395(10227), e47.

The epidemiological study in China of 105 cases of COVID-19 and their close contacts revealed that secondary transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus occurred in 64 of 392 household contacts (16.3%). The secondary attack rate in children was 4% compared to 17.1% in adults. The secondary attack rate among household contacts with self-quarantined reference patients since symptom onset was 0%, compared with 16.9% among contacts without quarantined reference patients. The secondary attack rate for contacts who were spouses of index cases was 27.8%, compared with 17.3% for other adult household members.

Li, W., Zhang, B., Lu, J., Liu, S., Chang, Z., Cao, P., ... & Chen, J. (2020). The characteristics of household transmission of COVID-19. Clinical Infectious Diseases.

In Shenzhen, according to an epidemiological study of 391 cases of COVID-19, the percentage of household contacts (those sharing a room, apartment, or other type of bed) who were later confirmed to be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was estimated at 15%.

Bi, Q., Wu, Y., Mei, S., Ye, C., Zou, X., Zhang, Z., Liu, X., Wei, L., Truelove, S. A., Zhang, T., Gao, W., Cheng, C., Tang, X., Wu, X., Wu, Y., Sun, B., Huang, S., Sun, Y., Zhang, J., Ma, T., ... Feng, T. (2020). Epidemiology and transmission of COVID-19 in 391 cases and 1286 of their close contacts in Shenzhen, China: a retrospective cohort study. The Lancet. Infectious diseases, S1473-3099(20)30287-5.

Analysis of close contacts of COVID-19 cases reveals a contamination rate of about 30% within the family at the beginning of the epidemic in Wuhan.

Wang Z, Ma W, Zheng X, Wu G, Zhang R (2020). Household transmission of SARS-CoV-2. J Infect. 81:179-182.

Further reading

How to organize a meal at home without risk to the guests?

How do you live with a vulnerable person?

Why do we have to be careful if we live with a vulnerable person?

Do I have to wear a mask if I don't have any symptoms?

How do we assess the risks in our daily lives?

Do I have to wear a mask inside / outside?