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Austin Public Health Issues Holiday Gathering Guidelines

Crowded indoor celebrations and caroling are among activities the organization views as high-risk

A green Christmas tree adorned with yellow ornaments and light blue surgical masks in front of a cream-colored brick wall
Austin Public Health issued COVID-19 safety guidelines this holiday season
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.

With Christmas happening this week, Austin Public Health issued yet another set of safety guidelines for the holidays. This is just after the city’s seven-day moving average of hospital admissions reached 50 per day as of yesterday.

The list breaks down holiday activities based on their risk factors. Generally, outdoor events are considered safer than indoor events, and masks and sanitizer are always recommended. Singing and shouting are discouraged.

Low-risk, and therefore recommended, activities include sticking to household groups, hosting virtual events with friends and family, cooking and contact-free delivery of holiday dishes and treats to local friends and family, decorating home spaces, and watching seasonal movies and television shows at home.

Medium-risk activities include hosting small outdoor meals with friends and family who live nearby, going to outdoor events, and going to an outdoor parade or film screening.

Not recommended, high-risk activities are caroling, going to indoor functions that are crowded, traveling outside of Austin for holiday events and gatherings, and going on hayrides with people who aren’t in their households.

If people still choose to attend meals, parties, and gatherings, it’s recommended that they quarantine for 14 days before the event, as well as social distance and wear masks when around people outside of their household groups. Those who either have or are suspected of having the virus, or who have come in contact with someone who has or is suspected of having the virus, should quarantine and refrain from all activities.

These holiday guidelines are similar to the ones APH released for Thanksgiving and Halloween/Día de los Muertos.

Austin crossing the threshold of a seven-day moving average of 50 hospital admissions per day on December 21 was expected to trigger the city’s escalation into Stage 5 of its risk-based guidelines. However, interim Austin-Travis County health authority Dr. Mark Escott told Statesman that the agency will hold off on moving to Stage 5 for the next few days, to see if the numbers continue to trend upward, before issuing anything further.

If Austin does escalate to Stage 5 this week, associated recommendations would include asking open businesses (restaurants included) to switch to takeout service only, implementing bar and restaurant curfews, and having people avoid gatherings outside of their household groups. The guidelines function as recommendations rather than orders.