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Outdoor Holiday Meals Are Considered Medium-Risk by Austin Public Health

The city agency issued a set of safety guidelines ahead of the holiday season

A light blue surgical mask on top of a layer of dry, orange tree leaves
Holidays in the time of the novel coronavirus
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Thanksgiving is next week, which marks the beginning of the holiday season. Austin Public Health (APH) issued a bunch of safety guidelines on how to safely celebrate the holidays during the novel coronavirus pandemic. This is especially relevant because of the ongoing surge of hospitalizations and cases throughout the country, during a time when people typically travel and gather to see family and friends for meals and parties.

APH’s list was made in accordance with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the county’s current stage 3 risk-based status. The department made sure to note that these are suggestions, not mandates.

The list breaks down typical holiday activities based on their risk factors, taking into account settings and how much close-contact is required. Generally, outdoor plans are better than indoor ones. People should wear masks, sanitize their hands often, refrain from hugging or touching people outside of your household groups (defined as people who live in the same home), and maintain social distancing with people outside of those groups.

High-risk holiday activities that should be avoided include traveling outside of the city (as echoed by health officials); attending indoor parties and meals; hayrides with people outside of your household group; and door-to-door activities like caroling.

There are several medium-risk activities listed as well. These include hosting or attending an outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your city; picking out trees and fruits at farms and orchards while also using hand sanitizer; and putting together an outdoor movie screening or parade.

Safe and preferred low-risk activities include sticking to your household groups, decorating your own homes, hosting virtual parties and dinners, cooking and contactless delivering special dishes to friends and families, and watching holiday movies and television shows at home.

Travis County and Austin’s current emergency rules, which require facial coverings and discourage social gatherings of more than 10 people, are in effect through the end of the year.

These holiday guidelines are similar to what APH released ahead of Halloween and Día de los Muertos in October.

Update, November 20, 3:30 p.m.: This article, originally published on November 18, has been updated to correct APH’s risk assessment of outdoor dinners.