Which Winter Activities Are Low Risk During COVID-19 (And Which Should You Avoid)?

In our first two editions of What’s the Risk?, our pediatric experts covered everything from playgrounds to farmers markets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With winter on its way, Connecticut Children’s infectious disease pediatrician Melissa Held, MD, returns with advice.

Brave the cold!

With temperatures dropping, you might be tempted to move your family’s activities indoors. But being outside in the fresh air is still the best way to reduce everyone’s risk of catching or spreading coronavirus.

So layer up and embrace the winter weather! Fresh air is great for you and will improve everyone’s mood. This is a great year to start some new holiday traditions with your family.


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Do your research, and do your part.

  • If you’re considering a group activity or event, confirm COVID-19 safety measures ahead of time. Are masks required? Will participants be limited? What’s the plan for social distancing?
  • If anyone in your family is feeling sick (even if you’re pretty sure it’s just a cold) or may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, please stay home, call your doctor, and self-quarantine.
  • When you’re with people outside your household, wear a mask (over both your nose and mouth!) that has at least two layers of cloth and stay at least six feet away. As always, practice great hand hygiene – frequent handwashing or use of a hand sanitizer is always a good idea to help prevent the spread of all germs, not just COVID-19!

> Related: Happy Holidays During COVID-19! Ideas to Make This Season Special

Lower Risk

Two skiers ride a chairlift while wearing snow gear and masks

  • Cross-country skiing: Since this activity happens outdoors in wide open spaces, where your family can keep plenty of distance from others, it’s lower risk. Make sure you have masks ready in case you come across other skiers on the trail, and as always, avoid any prolonged contact with people outside your household or “pod.”
  • Downhill skiing or snowboarding: This can also be relatively low risk if everyone wears masks and keeps their distance. But no squeezing onto a lift with strangers, and avoid clustering in groups in high-traffic areas, like the top and bottom of the slope. Limit close contact to just your household members, and if you need to visit the lodge, wear a mask at all times and practice social distancing. Consider packing a lunch to eat outdoors or in the car, or choose a grab-and-go option from the cafeteria. Eating and drinking around others, when your mask is off, is very high risk!
  • Sledding: If your child is sledding with siblings or just one close friend, this activity can be lower risk. But look for a secluded hill, since popular spots could wind up getting crowded – and sledding usually involves lots of screaming and yelling, which easily spreads germs.
  • Tree lighting events: With the right precautions, an outdoor community event like a tree lighting can be lower risk. If you’re planning on taking your child to one, make sure the event requires masks and has a plan to socially distant participants – for example, circles marked on the lawn for each household to stay within. Only greet neighbors from six or more feet away, and always with masks on.
  • Ice skating: Because ice skating typically takes place outdoors or in a big indoor space, it can still be a lower risk activity – but your family should wear masks the whole time and maintain space from others. Beginner ice skaters will have trouble controlling their (social) distance on the ice, so try to go to the skating pond or rink at off-peak hours. Rinks should limit participants and clearly mark common areas for proper social distancing, for example, while waiting to rent skates or getting on and off the ice.

> Related: How Can I Tell if My Child Has the Flu or COVID-19?

Moderate to High Risk

  • Caroling: Traditional caroling, even though it takes place outdoors, is higher risk because singing has been shown to spread a lot of germs into the air. Additionally, carolers tend to sing close to one another, which would put participants at high risk. You can reduce the risk to your family and community by only going caroling with people in your household or pod. Consider calling neighbors and serenading them on speakerphone while they watch through a window. For a safer alternative, plan a virtual holiday karaoke party instead.
  • Meeting Santa: The more crowded the setting, the riskier it will be. If you choose to take your child, make sure the event requires masks for the entire visit (even during pictures!) and is strictly enforcing proper distancing, both for participants and onlookers. We don’t want Santa to get sick since he is older and at higher risk! We need him healthy for Christmas!
  • Holiday shopping: Sales and promotions that draw a crowd make social distancing a challenge, so this is higher risk. To lower your risk, avoid shopping during peak hours and on particularly busy days, like the days leading up to a holiday. Wear a mask at all times, observe social distancing, and use hand sanitizer before and after you visit the shops (and wash your hands with soap and water once you have access to a sink). Take advantage of online shopping for a safer approach.
  • Holiday travel: Airports and rest stops may put your family in contact with large numbers of people, and any gathering where attendees have traveled from different regions are shown to be a higher risk for everyone than gatherings where all the attendees live in the same area. With coronavirus cases rising across the country, your family’s safest bet is to avoid holiday travel this year if you can.
  • Meals with extended family and friends: Unfortunately, sharing a meal (especially indoors) with anyone who isn’t part of your household or “pod” is a high-risk activity. The more people you are with and the longer each interaction lasts, the higher the risk of infection with COVID-19 for everyone – which means you’ll need to avoid big holiday gatherings this year. Plan a virtual event instead or do a pot-luck with friends and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others (for example, leave the dish on the front porch). For safe ideas to make this holiday season special, check out our weekly holiday ideas.

> Related: How to Help Kids Handle Holiday Disappointment During COVID-19

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