COVID Concerns? How to Decline Invitations but Maintain Good Relationships

December 1, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Lauren Kaczka-Weiss, D.O. contributes to topics such as Parenting, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

As we get closer to the holidays and the weather gets colder, you may start to get invited to holiday parties or other indoor gatherings. With COVID-19 cases rising again in New Jersey and across the nation, you might feel urged to decline, but worried about souring a relationship if you don’t attend. It’s important to consider a few things and discuss them with your friends and family before doing anything that makes you uncomfortable. Here’s where to start:

How to have “the COVID talk”

It may help to acknowledge that you have different opinions and practices. You may want to ask about their thoughts while revealing your own, since it can make the conversation more of a dialogue.

People don’t respond well when they’re told that they’re doing things wrong. It may be more productive to use “I” statements (“I wear a mask wherever I go”) rather than “you” statements (“you should be wearing a mask more often”). Share simple facts from reliable sources, rather than getting bogged down by details or emotions. You can also use “I feel” statements. For example, “I feel unsafe without a mask.”

You may want to discuss the below topics before meeting certain friends or relatives in person.

“If you talk through the discussion points below and still don’t feel comfortable getting together, politely decline the invitation, but let your friends or family members know this distancing is only temporary,” says Lauren Kaczka-Weiss, D.O., a board certified psychiatrist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “By planning for the future when everyone can get together safely, it helps get through these challenging times and give everyone something to look forward to.”

Will you wear a mask?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks whenever you’re around people, but some choose not to follow this guideline. If you’re wearing masks and don’t feel comfortable around others who don’t, you should:

  • explain that masks protect people who wear them plus others they come into contact with, who may be at greater risk of COVID-19 complications
  • be firm about not getting together with people who won’t wear masks
  • consider asking people who don’t wear masks around others to wear them around you

Would we meet indoors or outdoors?

Outdoor interactions are safer than indoor ones, because the fresh air makes it easier for the virus to dissipate. Indoor meetings are less risky with the windows open and with everyone in masks. If you’re uneasy about getting together indoors, you should:

  • explain that wide-open spaces and breezes reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading
  • stand firm in your decision, but agree that it would be nicer if circumstances were different
  • make suggestions for outdoor activities, like walking or hiking

Can we see each other without hugging?

People who don’t socially distance may want to greet you with hugs or handshakes but coming into close contact with others increases the risk of COVID-19 spreading. It’s best that you stay at least six feet apart from people not in your household. You can also:

  • explain that embraces or hand-to-hand contact make it easier for the virus to spread
  • say that your feelings of affection haven’t changed, even if you won’t show it with a hug
  • suggest waves, air high-fives or elbow bumps instead

How will we handle food and drinks?

If you decide to meet for a meal, insist on maintaining at least six-foot distance, because you can’t wear masks while eating and drinking. Also, find out how the meal will be served. There’s no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food, but the virus may spread through shared contact, if everyone touches the same serving utensils. If you’d eat with others if everyone takes certain measures, you should:

  • explain that shared serving utensils may increase the risk of COVID-19
  • ask if one person can portion out food for everyone, if it will be offered in a serving dish
  • suggest that everyone brings their own food and drink, to minimize contact

Acknowledge that everyone is different, and that’s OK!

Some find it uncomfortable to discuss your safety habits with people whose pandemic-related practices differ from yours, for fear that the conversation may become too personal. But having heartfelt conversations with loved ones about these topics may help.

“This virus is not going away on its own, so talking about your concerns and practices may help you maintain your relationships with people whose practices are different,” says Dr. Kaczka-Weiss. “If you care about these people and they care about you, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have respectful conversations to talk about COVID-19 feelings and practices.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.