With the world in the throes of a pandemic, everything looks different in 2020. It has certainly been a unique year. Unfortunately, the holidays will be no exception.

It is tough to come to terms with what COVID-19 means for November and December, when we traditionally come together to celebrate cultural and religious holidays. It is in our nature to gather; family and friends mean everything to us. The number of COVID-19 cases in Chelan and Douglas counties has risen to over 500 cases per 100,000 people, a number we have not seen since this summer. By the time you read this, it may be even higher.

The Recovery Council, Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and Confluence Health all ask that we rethink our holiday gatherings this year. Our local health officer Dr. Malcolm Butler has warned, in no uncertain terms, that there is no safe way this year to share a meal with people outside your household.

Now more than ever before in this pandemic, it is important we gather responsibly. Our community — our businesses, schools, medical facilities and more — are counting on each of us to celebrate responsibly and limit our gatherings to those within our households for the holidays. They are counting on us to help them fight this current COVID surge.

Does this mean you have to have a drab and lonely holiday? Not at all. When celebrating with loved ones outside your household, get creative. Invite five of your friends and family for a celebratory bonfire after your Thanksgiving meal. Or plan a holiday stroll along the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail to work off your dinners together. Alternatively, consider going virtual with a larger group of family and friends. Zoom, Google Meets, Facebook Groups or other virtual platforms are all great ways to bring more people together while supporting responsible gathering. Create 2020 memories while doing it safely — and while wearing a mask.

If you cannot stand the thought of not sharing a meal with family or friends this holiday season, we implore you to put safeguards in place. This means, first and foremost, being honest with yourself and others about your potential risk — and their potential risk to you. Consider asking guests to be tested and quarantine prior to gathering.

Free, drive-thru testing returns to Wenatchee High School. Dates are Nov. 20-22 and Nov. 25. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Additionally, Walgreens is offering drive up testing. To book an appointment visit walgreens.com/findcare/covid19/testing. You can also purchase a test you administer at home at Costco and Safeway. Remember, if you or your loved ones know you were exposed or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 please call Confluence Health at 509-663-8711 or Columbia Valley Community Health at 509-662-6000 immediately to be tested.

In addition, follow basic principles of responsible gathering: keep your group small; disinfect all surfaces (dining table, kitchen counters, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures) before guests arrive; pass out masks for guests and insist they wear them; follow rules of social distancing, even at the dining table; ask guests to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer upon arrival and during your time together; consider eating on a patio; and serve food in single-serve dishes.

The holidays are often stressful — even without COVID-19. The added layer of remaining COVID-conscious can be overwhelming for some. It just takes a few small adjustments — like wearing a mask indoors at home, going virtual or gathering outdoors — to make your gathering safer. The last thing any of us would want for the holidays is our loved ones to fall ill while celebrating the season. Let’s head into the new year with a commitment to fight COVID together.

The Wenatchee Valley COVID-19 Recovery Council was stood up by the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and is co-chaired by East Wenatchee Mayor Jerrilea Crawford and Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz.

Members of the Recovery Council represent various industries including public and private healthcare, retail, banking, government, construction, agriculture, nonprofit organizations, and education.

For a full list of members, the reopening toolkit created this summer and more please visit http://wenatchee.org/covid-recovery-council.