Easter gatherings may be tempting, but are they risky?

UCLA Health infection prevention expert Dr. Annabelle de St. Maurice explains how to safely celebrate the holiday.

After a year of isolation and canceled gatherings, it’s not surprising that families may want to get together for Easter brunch or a backyard barbecue on Sunday, April 4.

Not so fast, says Annabelle de St. Maurice, MD, co-chief infection prevention officer at UCLA Health. Although COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have dramatically decreased since winter, precautions still need to be taken.

Dr. Annabelle de St. Maurice

“We need to continue to be safe when we’re interacting with others,” Dr. de St. Maurice says. “If you want to get together, get together outdoors — it’s one way we can drive down transmissions.”

Barbecues are a great idea for Easter, she says, because you can be outdoors, cooking and eating, a safe way to get together with others.

Easter egg hunts also are good because families can do those safely outdoors, she says, and people naturally are physically distanced during that type of activity.

“I think it’s prudent, if you have family members who are immunocompromised or at high risk of having disease, to try to maintain physical distance from them and not do indoor gatherings,” she says.

Since not everybody has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, Easter is not the time to ignore the precautions we’ve grown used to over the past year, Dr. de St. Maurice says. That includes masking, hand-washing and physical distancing.

Los Angeles County is poised to advance on Monday into the orange tier in the COVID-19 safety rating system, signifying restaurants can open indoors with a maximum of 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. 

Still, despite the encouraging indicators, gathering at a restaurant for Easter brunch might pose risks, especially if you’re seated indoors, Dr. de St. Maurice says. She recommends calling ahead to ask if you’ll be seated indoors or outdoors, if tables will be physically distanced, and, if the area is enclosed, whether the air is recirculating.

Keeping windows or doors open also can reduce the risk of transmission when dining indoors, she says.

As for religious services, Dr. de St. Maurice suggests looking for those held in outdoor venues where people are able to maintain separation. “If individuals are packed together, unmasked and singing, that can really increase the risk of transmission,” she says.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends delaying air travel, even for those fully vaccinated, there are ways to mitigate the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19, Dr. de St. Maurice says.

For those flying to see loved ones for Easter, choose a seat away from others — an empty row in front or behind you or, minimally, an empty seat beside you; wear a face shield in addition to a mask to protect your eyes; and know the airline’s masking and food and beverage policy before you book your flight.

Some airlines require a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding, which can offer a measure of comfort, Dr. de St. Maurice says.

“If visiting relatives at risk, I recommend getting tested after the flight and practicing all the measures — social distancing, washing hands, wearing a mask — when you arrive to avoid spreading the virus,” she says.

Dr. de St. Maurice notes a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in hotspots, and says we should expect to practice precautions until much of the global population has been immunized.

“I think the real challenge now is are we going to continue to see increases and a fourth surge — which would be devastating — or are we going to continue to ramp up vaccines and have decreases in cases,” she says.

 “We’re at a point where we just need to hang on for a little bit longer,” Dr. de St. Maurice says. “I know we’re all excited to get back to normal, but we still need to be prudent and cautious going forward. It’s good to have some safe options for getting together over the holidays.”

Jennifer Karmarkar is the author of this article.

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