COVID Q&A: Family gatherings are COVID-19 hotspots

Q: Where is Idaho seeing the most spread of COVID-19?

A: Public health officials are seeing the most spread in Idaho at smaller gatherings of families and friends, where people are not following the recommended guidelines. We understand — it feels weird to wear a mask around people you know and love. But the reality is that the virus doesn’t care how strange or uncomfortable it feels to stay 6 feet apart and to wear a mask around your friends and family. It will take advantage of the situation and spread among your loved ones if precautions are not taken.

Asymptomatic spread is the most complicated part of the coronavirus. Sometimes people just don’t know they have been infected and they unwittingly infect their friends and family. The solution is simple – everyone should wear face coverings and stay 6 feet apart. It’s very important to be diligent about those simple things to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Q: Now that the state is back in a modified Stage 3, what does that mean for family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas?

A: Gatherings are where Idaho public health personnel are seeing the most consistent spread, but gatherings of less than 50 people are allowed under the new order.

There are ways to gather as safely as possible during the upcoming holidays, and we implore you to follow the guidelines and wear a mask (maybe if everyone is doing it, it won’t feel so weird), stay 6 feet apart, wash your hands often, and please stay home if you feel sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has several tips for how to gather safely for the holidays, including these:

  • Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities as much as possible. If hosting an outdoor event is not possible, and you choose to host an indoor event, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces.
    • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather.
  • Host activities with only people from your local area as much as possible.
  • Limit numbers of attendees as much as possible.
  • Provide updated information to your guests about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Provide or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help you and others stay healthy. For example, extra masks (do not share or swap with others), hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and tissues.
  • If you are planning in-person holiday gatherings with people outside of your household, consider asking all guests to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.

Q: How does the 50-person limit apply to grocery stores and large shopping areas?

A: Grocery stores, shopping areas, and malls are not considered “gatherings” for the purpose of the order. Even so, those businesses should still comply with physical distancing and sanitation requirements in the order. And everyone who shops in those areas should follow the guidelines and wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart as much as possible, and sanitize your hands frequently. And if you feel sick, please just stay home and ask someone else to do your shopping for you, or order groceries and other necessary items online until you feel well again.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, please remember to:

  • Wear face coverings  
  • Keep at least six feet between you and others
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly


Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch is the administrator for the Division of Public Health.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at

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