New Safety Guidance Ahead of the Holiday Season

Vivian Jones, M.D., Family Medicine

Last holiday season, vaccines weren’t accessible to the general population yet, which meant a lot of pre-holiday quarantining and possibly moving the dining table outdoors for those who did decide to gather last year. While vaccines are now available to a lot more people, the CDC is still encouraging similar measures, especially if you have a lot of family members who are either too young to be vaccinated or aren’t vaccinated for other reasons. But you may be scratching your head as to why.

We spoke with Vivian Jones, M.D., a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano and at Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to get her insight on the recommendations, as well as travel and how to keep everyone as safe as possible this season.

 

Vaccinate to Keep Safe

Since unvaccinated people are six times more likely to catch COVID-19 than those who have received a jab, and they are 11 times more likely to die from the condition, the CDC is still stressing the importance of vaccinations for every eligible family member and holiday guest.

“Those who are unvaccinated are more likely to become infected with the coronavirus, more likely to be contagious for longer periods, and more likely to harbor more infectious virus load than the vaccinated,” Jones explains. “As such, they can still spread the virus to others, such as young children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, aging relatives, individuals with weakened immune systems, as well as those who are vaccinated.”

So getting vaccinated not only protects you but younger children and other folks who aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, as well.

Currently, people who are 5 years old and over are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and everyone over the age of 18 who received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may get a booster shot based on their individual risks and benefits. If you received a one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you’ll likely be eligible for a second booster shot soon.

 

Flying the Friendly Skies

Unlike last year, the CDC isn’t discouraging air travel this holiday season, but they are encouraging the consideration of “safer travel options” first, such as road trips or shorter flights with fewer layovers.

“For those who are fully vaccinated, it IS safer to travel by plane this season than it was last season,” Jones says. “While the vaccine helps decrease the risk of serious illness and the risk of death from COVID-19, wearing masks is still required in the United States for most forms of public transportation, including air travel. As such, this additional measure also helps to decrease your risk of contracting and spreading COVID to others.”

 

Continue to Gather with Caution

While it is optimal that every guest at your gathering is fully vaccinated, it may not be completely unavoidable, especially if you have young children or someone who is ineligible for the vaccine for other reasons. Because of this, the CDC still suggests

Additionally, if you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, the CDC suggests considering additional precautions, such as avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel and taking a COVID test before gathering to further reduce risk.

As far as using single-use dinnerware and allocating one person to serve everyone in order to reduce transmission, Jones says while it’s still possible to contract COVID-19 by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, it is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

“If single-use dinnerware is not used, I would suggest that individuals still practice good hygiene by washing hands appropriately to further decrease the possibility of spread,” she adds.

And whether you loved it or wished you could be closer to the TV, dining ‘al fresco’ is still recommended, weather permitting. If you can’t bring your holiday meal outdoors, Many brought their holiday meals outdoors, open doors/windows as much as possible to help with airflow indoors.

 

The Takeaway

“This year, we definitely have more options for ways to interact and engage in public settings than we did last year,” Jones says. “People who are fully vaccinated can engage in activities that were done prior to the pandemic such as gathering in an indoor setting together without wearing masks if all individuals in the group are vaccinated. However, you might still choose to wear a mask if the group is large, a member of your group has a weakened immune system, or a member is at increased risk for severe disease.”

But one thing that remains the same this year and last year, what you and your family and loved ones choose to do is ultimately up to you. It is still suggested you read through the recommendations and carefully assess the risks — think about who will be there, and who will be vulnerable. Additionally, even though it may be a bit of a social faux pas or you may be met with a bit of resistance, you can also make use of rapid home COVID-19 tests on the day of your gathering for extra peace of mind. While these tests aren’t perfect, if everyone gets tested and they’re negative, there’s a lower likelihood of people getting sick.

And, of course, if you’re sick or have any symptoms, you should make a raincheck on holiday festivities until after you’re better and not contagious.

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