Last year, many of us spent the holidays watching our loved ones carve turkeys and open presents via Zoom. This holiday season, COVID-19 vaccines have made getting together in person with friends and family safer, says John Segreti, MD, an infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush University Medical Center.
“The vaccine has opened up a lot more possibilities,” he says.
But because group gatherings still pose some risks for spreading the virus that causes COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidelines for safer ways to celebrate the holidays. Here, Segreti discusses a few simple precautions you can take for a safer holiday get-together.
Encourage everyone attending to be fully vaccinated
“Vaccination is the key to having a safe holiday,” Segreti says. And if you are eligible for a booster, get it in time for the holidays.
If some family members are unvaccinated because of age or another reason, you will need to decide if you are willing to take the chance of celebrating together and agree on the ground rules in advance, he says. That may mean following CDC recommendations that people who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors.
Test when needed
Depending on where you’re headed for the holidays, you may need to get tested for COVID-19 before you arrive. Read the CDC’s travel guidelines and check the rules for your destination so you are prepared.
And if you or someone you’re celebrating with has a weakened immune system, it may not hurt to get tested for COVID-19 before your get-together, Segreti says. This includes:
- People who are undergoing chemotherapy
- People who had an organ or bone marrow transplant
- People with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease who are taking medications that suppress their immune systems
“Testing within 24 to 48 hours will add a layer of protection,” Segreti says.
Keep it small
“Any time you have a gathering, there’s always some risk,” Segreti says. That’s why it’s better to keep the celebration small, which also helps you avoid overcrowding a table or dining room.
Every family will have to decide the level of risk they are willing to take by inviting more guests. If a celebration involves guests beyond immediate family, the safest approach is for people who aren’t vaccinated to wear masks, he adds.
'Air' on the side of caution
Outdoor events are safer but often not practical during the holiday season in and around Chicago. Instead, choose a well-ventilated area for hosting. “Opening a window so air can circulate will make it safer,” Segreti says.
Stay home if you aren’t feeling well
If you have any COVID-19 symptoms like cough, fever or shortness of breath, skip the holiday party this year, Segreti says. Doing so demonstrates that you care for others and reflects the spirit of the season.