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A family roasts marshmallows outside as they celebrate the holidays.

What doctors feel safe doing over the 2020 holidays

Note: This article was last updated in November 2020. For the latest updates on COVID-19, see

As if COVID-19 weren’t stressful enough, end-of-year holidays invite new questions and considerations. 

What kind of celebrations are safest, if any? Should you stay with immediate family only? Is it OK to travel by car or plane?

Because COVID-19 is such a new disease, doctors and scientists are still learning about how it spreads and affects people. That’s part of the reason definitive rules can be hard to come by, and you may see health recommendations shift over time.

But we already know that some activities are riskier than others. Our physicians are navigating the new reality as well, so we asked four primary care doctors them what they’re doing (and not doing) this holiday season.

1. What type of holiday celebrations will you be participating in between now and the end of the year?

Indumathi Bendi, M.D. (internal medicine; Piedmont Physicians of Buckhead): A big Hindu festival called Diwali, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Meesha Beauvil Gwan-Nulla, M.D. (internal medicine; Piedmont Physicians at Warm Springs Road): Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Tashinea M. Bernadin, D.O. (family medicine; Piedmont Physicians of Fayette South): Most of my celebrations will be held at home with my husband and I.

Siraj Abdullah, D.O. (family medicine/sports medicine; Piedmont Physicians at Stadium Drive): Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas mark the beginning of my family’s holiday season. My wife and my oldest daughter really get into all the decorating! They love to make the scenes larger and more creative each year. We also like to have a big family dinner for the holidays.  

2. If so, will you celebrate only with immediate family and/or housemates? Or are you planning larger festivities?

Dr. Bendi: Due to the pandemic, the group will be smaller, limited to close family members and neighbors.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: Immediate family only.

Dr. Bernadin: Immediate family.

Dr. Abdullah: I am planning to celebrate with my immediate family. Traditionally our family travels to see my parents, siblings and grandmother, but given potential risk of exposing others, we have chosen to stay home and enjoy those here in Columbus.

3. How will you ensure the celebrations are safe for everyone involved?

Dr. Bendi: Keeping a controlled group of people that you know well, making sure they are not sick and that they are not engaging in activities without wearing masks—basically being cautious just like I am.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: Gathering with immediate family only.  All will wear masks, social-distance and wash hands.

Dr. Bernadin: We plan to adhere to social distancing guidelines; therefore, will not be having any gatherings at our house.

Dr. Abdullah: Fortunately, it is only my 3 children, wife and hopefully my niece who was recently stationed at Fort Benning. With a small group, it will be easier to keep all safe. If the weather permits, we will barbecue a turkey, do some outdoor activities and I will be catching up on football.

4. Will you be traveling to other cities by either car or plane this season? If so, what kinds of safety precautions will you take?

Dr. Bendi: Will definitely travel by car. Flight would be only an emergency option. I would avoid flights if you can do otherwise, since you will be sitting closely with other passengers.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: No.

Dr. Bernadin: No.

Dr. Abdullah: We have no current travel plans for this season, but we look forward to traveling again when it is safe for the whole family to do so. 

5. Even as the weather turns colder, do you plan to see people from outside your household outdoors for holidays and other occasions?

Dr. Bendi: I can do indoor gatherings, again limiting to a small group of people that you know well.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: No.

Dr. Bernadin: No.

Dr. Abdullah: We currently do not have plans to see others outside the household but would be more comfortable socializing outdoors at a distance. In previous years we enjoyed the Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens and plan to attend this year if possible. In addition, we have invested in a ton of traditional outdoor games and are excited about upping our family fun time this fall.

6. What do you think are the best ways (if any) to safely participate in holiday traditions like gift exchanges and group meals?

Dr. Bendi: As long as guests are not sick and have not been engaging in any high-risk behavior for the pandemic, such as not wearing masks, visiting bars and not social distancing, it is all right to celebrate together. In other, unknown situations, wearing masks, social distancing and doing gift exchanges would be ideal.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: I would recommend limit groups to those already in your bubble or no more than 10 people. Outdoor events are better. Individually wrapped food. No buffet-style eating. Wash hands.

Dr. Bernadin: Mail gifts, using Zoom or Skype to exchange.

Dr. Abdullah: I would recommend making gift exchanges zero-contact for those outside your immediate family, and keep group meals to immediate family or a small group of known individuals to decrease the chance of exposure to influenza and COVID-19. I also highly recommend getting the flu vaccine to minimize your risk this fall. 

7. If you or a family member will be cooking, what safety precautions do you plan to take when serving food to others?

Dr. Bendi: COVID transmission is not foodborne, so it is safe to consume food prepared by others. But good hand hygiene is important prior to eating a meal, whether it is pre-COVID days or during COVID times.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: Washing hands and wearing masks.

Dr. Abdullah: We will take standard precautions of washing hands frequently. We will also have hand sanitizer readily available for family to disinfect hands before touching shared utensils.

8. Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

Dr. Bendi: Don’t stay within four walls constantly, as this is not healthy for your mental or physical well-being. Get some fresh air, go for a walk, talk to family or friends, offer them emotional support if needed, dress up and take a drive on the roads, plan on safe vacations. It does not feel usual like before, but still rejuvenates you. It is all right to hold controlled, small, limited gatherings with people that you know well. Take the vaccine when it comes, as we can get back our lives together in future.

Dr. Bernadin: I recommend adhering to social distancing recommendations and wearing a face mask. If you decide to have guests over, then I recommend screening for symptoms and exposure to COVID.

Dr. Gwan-Nulla: Sacrifice now for long term gain! The holidays will be different this year. Try to stay in your bubble.

Dr. Abdullah: Please safely and responsibly enjoy your family and friends this holiday season! If you are planning to travel, protect yourself by wearing a mask and practice social distancing. Given that I am seeing multiple patients who have various illnesses, I wear a mask in public to decrease the chance of potentially passing anything on to others. I think most people think they are wearing a mask to protect themselves, but you also do not want to risk infecting others. So wear a mask to protect you, your family and others that you potentially can infect.

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