COVID-19 Q&A: CDC Subject Matter Expert Offers Advice on Safely Celebrating the Holidays During the Pandemic

By Ashley Moss
Staff Writer

Christmas is just days away, but before you invite friends and family over to swap presents, consider the risks. As COVID-19 surges across the nation, health officials are issuing guidance for how people can safely navigate the holidays. 

Subject Matter Expert Lieutenant Tia Rogers answered I Messenger’s questions about everything from holiday gatherings to guidance for wearing masks. Lt. Rogers currently serves as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer and a Lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Ashley Moss: Let’s start with an overarching question that is probably on everyone’s mind: Should we see family and friends for Christmas? 

Lieutenant Rogers: Many people have asked this question. We are all thinking it, and considering what we should do. We do not know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end but unfortunately we know that cases and deaths are rising all across the United States. When we consider the science on COVID-19, we’ve come to the conclusion that the safest way to celebrate the holidays is to celebrate at home and with the people who live with us. When we travel and when we gather with family and friends who don’t live with us that’s when we increase our chances of getting or spreading COVID-19, or even the flu. 

If you do decide to gather with people that don’t live with you, gatherings that are held outdoors are safer than indoor gatherings. But ultimately gathering virtually or with the people that you live with is the safest this winter. 

AM: Can we consider a negative COVID-19 test as a “free pass” to see family and friends?

LR: Not everyone needs to be tested, but in general there are four considerations for who should get tested for COVID-19: 

  • People who have symptoms for COVID-19
  • People who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 (within six feet or 15 minutes near someone who has a confirmed case) 
  • People who take part in activities that put them at higher risk 
  • Those who have been referred for a COVID-19 test by a healthcare provider or their local or state health department 

If you do get tested you should quarantine or isolate at home while you are waiting for results and then follow the advice of your healthcare provider. 

Continue to take the steps to protect yourself and others: wear your mask, watch your distance and wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water. If soap and water are not available use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. 

AM: Can you safely handle food and drinks at a party if you choose to attend or host a small gathering? 

LR: Currently there is no evidence to suggest that handling food is associated with directly spreading COVID-19. But keep in mind that it is possible to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or an object that has the virus on it. This is not thought to be the main way that the virus is spread but we have to remember to follow our food safety practices so we can reduce the risk of illness from common foodborne germs. Also, avoid potluck style gatherings. Wear a mask while preparing or serving food to others who aren’t Iiving in your household. 

AM: Can you reuse your masks after wearing them? 

LR: You need to keep your mask in a dry breathable bag to keep it clean between uses (consider a mesh or paper bag for storage). Consider washing your cloth masks by hand on a daily basis and then letting them air dry. 

From what we’ve heard, travel and gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. For now, the safest way to celebrate the holiday season may be virtually.

For reference, the CDC has developed holiday guidance to promote safe holiday celebrations and small gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That information and more can be found on https://www.cdc.gov/

To listen to the full interview, click here.

Tia Rogers currently serves as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer and a Lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). She is stationed in the Field Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Division of Violence Prevention within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In this position, she works with global partners including government ministries or agencies, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Together for Girls, and other centers across CDC to help countries address violence exposure through the Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS). Through her work as a part of the VACS team, she helps guide programs and policies to prevent violence against children and youth before it starts. As an EIS and USPHS officer, Dr. Rogers also contributes to CDC’s Emergency Operation Center (EOC) responses to public health emergencies including working with the Ministry of Health in Zambia on a Poliovirus outbreak and working with state, local, and tribal health departments on their response to the novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Dr. Rogers received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a mental health concentration from Spelman College then received her Master of Public Health in Behavioral Science from Emory University. Upon obtaining her PhD in public health from Georgia State University, she completed three years of postdoctoral training in the departments of Global Health and Population and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In her free time, she enjoys reading, dancing, and participating in youth enrichment activities as an active member of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority, Inc.

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