Pandemic Holidays: How MHS Students are Adapting to COVID-19 Safety Measures


Celia Hiorns

With winter break coming up at Middleton, holiday travel is likely to increase in the next couple of weeks. While the CDC and local public health officials strongly recommend that Wisconsinites stay home this year, about 28 percent of surveyed MHS students plan to travel or mix households. Nevertheless, for the 69 percent who are staying with their households, winter holidays are likely to take on a different look this year.

Celia Hiorns

With the world in the middle of a pandemic, holiday travel will likely look different this year as concerned citizens try to strike a balance between staying safe and keeping in touch with friends and family. Middleton High School’s winter break is quickly approaching and holiday travel plans are coming to fruition. Some of these follow public health guidelines, while others do not.

Celia Hiorns

In a survey of more than 50 students from Middleton High School, it was found that a majority (69 percent) of students and their families are planning on staying at home with people in their households this holiday season. About 21 percent of students say they do not plan to travel, but will still spend holidays with people outside their household. Only about 7 percent of students are planning on traveling in-state, though they are planning on spending the holidays with people outside their household. 

Another finding from the survey was that about 83 percent of participants report knowing what COVID-19 safety recommendations are currently in place from local, statewide, and national public health officials. About 3 percent said they do not know, and about 14 percent are unsure. So how do the plans of MHS students compare with current guidelines?

Nationally, the CDC is urging citizens to stay home, because it is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19. At the top of the travel page on their website, they have several messages, alerting Americans that coronavirus cases are on the rise.

On the state level, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has very few mandates in regards to public travel, though they have several recommendations to make sure citizens are staying safe this holiday season. It is encouraged that “Wisconsinites cancel or postpone all travel, including travel within the state,” according to the CDC. If citizens insist on traveling, COVID-19 testing and quarantine are highly recommended before and after travel, and any gatherings should be limited to ten people. 

Gov. Tony Evers also enacted an emergency order on Nov. 20, which introduced other guidelines, mainly required face coverings while gathering indoors with people outside of your household. Additionally, face coverings are encouraged “in all other settings, including outdoors when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing”, according to the mandate. A few exceptions follow this order, including children under the age of two or people with medical conditions that make wearing face coverings unsafe. According to the Governor’s Office, this order expires on Jan. 19.

On Nov. 20, the Public Health Office of Dane County amended Emergency Order #10 to prohibit indoor gatherings of any size, and limit outdoor gatherings to social distanced groups of ten. Oddly enough, this order, which included stricter guidelines than the state orders, expired on Dec. 16 — right before an expected holiday travel boom. Emergency Order #11 replaced it, which contains more lenient restrictions because of the decline in new cases in the county. Enforcing an indoor gathering limit of 10, this order is set to expire on Jan. 13.

Compared to the results of the survey that reflect low travel rates, it seems like MHS students have an adequate understanding of these public health recommendations. As far as taking other precautions, students surveyed seem to have some good ideas for staying safe. One student, senior Jojo Hunt, plans to keep her holiday gatherings controlled. 

My family is keeping our circle pretty small, just seeing a couple people who aren’t immediate family, [and] always wearing masks,” said Hunt, 

Another student, senior Annie Warriner, plans on gathering over Zoom to make sure everyone in her family stays safe.

Celia Hiorns

Some of the most popular ideas from the survey include limiting holiday gatherings to the household, wearing masks, and social distancing during any out-of-household activities. Likely because of winter weather conditions, outdoor gatherings are less popular, and with limited availability, reliable COVID-19 testing can also be difficult to obtain without having symptoms.

What’s most important for holiday travel is that people are being thoughtful about gathering and traveling, especially this time of year. Think about whether your travel plans are really necessary, and if it’s worth putting yourself or others at risk. Consider creative solutions like gathering over Zoom, or limiting indoor activities with people outside your household. While it may be difficult to spend the holidays without everyone you love this year, remember that the better we can follow the proper guidelines, the sooner we can return to gathering safely.