Cancel Christmas: With COVID cases surging, will health officials ask us to call off gatherings?


A man sits at a table with others outside a bar in central London on the eve of a second COVID-19 lockdown in an effort to combat soaring infections. English pubs called last orders at the bar for a month on Wednesday evening, as the country effectively shuts down from November 5, for the second time this year to try to cut coronavirus cases. (Photo by HOLLIE ADAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. is hitting record marks for COVID cases and hospitalizations as deaths continue to slowly rise. All this is happening as we’re being warned about a “dark winter” while temperature drop and people spend more time indoors.

With a grim outlook on getting a handle on the pandemic, many are wondering what Christmas celebrations might look like in 2020.

In France, where deaths are currently higher than the U.S. per capita, one of the nation’s top health officials is saying a typical holiday season is not possible.

“I would say, without any hesitation, that we ought to cancel Christmas,” said Julien Lenglet, the director of a Paris hospital, according to Reuters.

The hospital director warned Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations have the potential to cause a “giant, intergenerational cluster” that leads to another wave of infections.

France is currently under lockdown with the hope cities and businesses can reopen at the beginning of December and essentially “save” Christmas. Whether that can happen remains to be seen. It’s always possible the lockdown will be continued.

In the U.S., officials are far less strict. Unless things drastically change, there are no signs we’ll be asked to “cancel” Christmas.

For Thanksgiving, the government is asking people to stay home, halt travel and gather outdoors for small celebrations.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its holiday guidance, noting the virus crisis is worsening and that small household gatherings are “an important contributor.” The CDC said older adults and others at heightened risk of severe illness should avoid gathering with people outside their households.

Experts point to Canada, where Thanksgiving was celebrated Oct. 12. Clusters of cases tied to family gatherings followed.

“This sucks. It really, really does,” Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said two weeks later.

However, there’s no need to cancel the holiday, said Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington state deputy secretary of health. Instead, you need to rethink traditional celebrations.

The coronavirus spreads more easily when people are crowded together inside, so Fehrenbach encourages new outdoor traditions such as hiking as a family. Guest lists for indoor feasts should be small enough so people can sit 6 feet apart while unmasked and eating, she said. Open the windows to keep air circulating.

The more people who attend a gathering, the greater the chances that someone in the party will be carrying the virus, Fehrenbach said, “even someone that you know and love.”

On any other Thanksgiving, dozens of Olga Garcia’s family members would squeeze into her home to make tamales, watch football and tell stories. This year, the 61-year-old professional caregiver will deliver food to family spread along 30 miles of the North Cascades Highway in Washington state.

If the plan works, everyone will sit down at the same time to eat in their own homes and join a group phone call.

“It’s a sad time,” Garcia said. “But it can also be a grateful time: that we’re all here, that we have a roof over our head, a job to go to and enough food to go around. And for those that don’t have enough, we can say, ‘Here’s a plate.’”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.