Last year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spent Thanksgiving home alone with his wife minus their two daughter who lived in disparate parts of the country.
That was before the COVID-19 vaccines became available.
Now, one year later, things have changed for the better for the upcoming holiday season. But, that doesn’t mean you can leave safety measures behind.
“If you are vaccinated and your family members are vaccinated…you can enjoy the holidays. You can enjoy Halloween, trick-or-treating, and certainly Thanksgiving with your family and Christmas with your family,” Fauci recently told ABC News “This week,” noting he would be spending the holidays this year with family members.
Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health, agrees with Dr. Fauci.
“This year I am more comfortable spending time with my relatives and friends to celebrate the holidays. We always set some expectations so everyone is comfortable celebrating with each other,” he said.
The Baystate Infectious Diseases chief noted getting vaccinated isn’t just about “you.”
“We know that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective in keeping most people out of the hospital and dying from the disease. However, not only will getting vaccinated help to keep you and your family safe and healthy this holiday season and beyond, but your community as well by lowering the potential for spreading the contagious virus. Getting vaccinated will also help to protect others in your family who may be too young to be vaccinated or who cannot get vaccinated due to other health problems,” said Dr. Paez.
If you are gathering for the holidays with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, you could consider additional precautions such as avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel and taking a COVID-19 test in advance of gathering to further reduce risk.
Other special considerations notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include:
- People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system may not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated and have received an additional dose. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask, until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.
- You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.
Beyond gathering with family and friends to celebrate on the holiday, there is also shopping and parties to consider, noted Dr. Paez.
“While shopping online is still the safest, being vaccinated this year will offer you greater protection when out among the crowded stores. Still, I suggest with the CDC following best practices to avoid the virus and its spread. While many cities and towns are lifting their mask mandates, consider wearing a well-fitted mask over your nose and mouth when out shopping, and if possible try to avoid overly crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. And keep your hand sanitizer close and wash your hands when returning home,” he said.
Dr. Paez noted that if you can say for certain that everyone on your holiday guest list is fully vaccinated, then the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 is greatly reduced.
“If that is not the case, I recommend that you be transparent with the attendees if you are the host regarding the specific activities that you plan to do. If you are attending the gathering, you can always reach out to the organizer about the details of the party. This way, you will have an idea how to protect yourself, your relatives and others by following recommended respiratory safety etiquette,” he said.
If you are considering traveling for the holidays, visit CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family. CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated. Consider:
- If you are not fully vaccinated and must travel, follow CDC’s domestic travel or international travel recommendations for unvaccinated people.
- If you will be traveling in a group or family with unvaccinated people, choose safer travel options.
- Everyone, even people who are fully vaccinated, is required to wear a mask on public transportation and follow international travel recommendations.
“Of course, it should go without saying that if you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, don’t host or attend an event, and get tested, especially if you have been in close contact with someone who has the virus,” said Dr. Paez.
Dr. Paez noted that “getting fully vaccinated is the best gift you can give yourself, family, friends and the larger community this holiday season.”
“As the new year 2022 begins, I am more optimistic than ever regarding this pandemic. We already have the vaccines and have better understanding on how to use them to maximize their benefits like the need for a booster shot. New effective treatments, particularly the oral antiviral medications, will hopefully be available soon. I think as a community we truly have enough reasons to celebrate the holiday season,” he said.