Our traditional holiday celebrations and gatherings are just around the corner and many of us are making plans. Meanwhile, public health officials are urging all Americans to continue to use extreme caution as we prepare for the holiday season, because of the continuing danger of exposure to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued the latest guidelines for how to stay safe during the 2021 holiday season, the second one affected by the pandemic.
Foremost, avoiding travel and participating in virtual celebrations is the lowest risk choice we can make. However, as travel restrictions and mask mandates loosen in many parts of the country, and as more people are vaccinated, many will be choosing to celebrate with family again.
Here’s how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this holiday season, based on the latest recommendations from the CDC:
- Get vaccinated. Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep family and friends safe is to get vaccinated. So far, approximately 60% of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated with one of the three available vaccines, which have been proven to be safe and effective. The vaccines were not available in time for last year’s holiday season, and this year they are considered to be the most important factor in safe celebrating. Anthony Fauci, M.D., the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, recently said on ABC’s This Week, “If you’re vaccinated, and your family members are vaccinated, you can enjoy the holidays.”
However, Jill Favereau, Director of Social Services at Fairview Senior Living reminds us that “although family members, friends, and staff have been vaccinated as well as most senior living residents, precautions need to be upheld for everyone. This protects residents and loved ones from being exposed or re-exposed to the illness from our physical encounters when visiting. And, there are individuals who become COVID positive even after being vaccinated.”
- Celebrate outdoors if possible, and wear face masks when indoors. The CDC warns that celebrating outdoors is safer than indoors. Plan the event for outdoors, or on a screened porch, if the weather permits. If hosting an outdoor event is not possible, and you choose to host an indoor event, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces. Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors.
If you’re planning to spend time indoors with people from outside of your household, masks are recommended. Masking has been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for both the wearer and the people around them. The CDC also reminds us that we should choose to wear a mask if a member of the household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.
- Minimize gestures that promote close contact. Avoid shaking hands, bumping elbows or giving hugs. Instead wave and verbally greet others.
- If you must travel, do so safely. Masks are required on all public transportation, whether you are vaccinated or not. Be sure to wear your mask over both your nose and mouth at all times. Per the CDC’s travel guidelines for people who are not fully vaccinated, you should get tested before your trip, wear a mask, and distance as much as possible from people outside of your household. After arriving at your destination, you should also get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible and self-quarantine for at least a full week, even if your test is negative.
- When in doubt, get tested. If you are sick or have COVID-like symptoms, do not host or attend a gathering, the CDC warns. The best way to ensure you don’t have COVID, is to check. “Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have close contact with someone who has COVID-19,” the CDC advises. Though breakthrough cases are still fairly rare, they can happen. So this recommendation applies to everyone, no matter what your vaccination status is.
- Avoid buffet-style serving dishes and utensils. If you will be serving any food to a group, consider having one person serve all of the food, so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils. Require servers to wear a mask while serving.
- Wash your hands often and correctly. That quick wash after a trip to the bathroom or before a meal is not enough for coronavirus prevention. Especially in public places where you could encounter contaminated surfaces, wash your hands with soap and water for a full 20 seconds or more, being sure to lather the back of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers and around your nails. If soap and water aren’t available, be sure to use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Rub the gel over your hands as described above until your hands are dry again, for about 20 seconds.
- Keep commonly touched surfaces clean and disinfected. If you’re concerned that your usual household cleaner might not be enough, refer to this list of EPA-approved products that can be used to fight COVID-19 pathogens.
The bottom line this holiday season is that staying home with your immediate household group is the safest choice. And, the more preventive measures that you put in place, the safer your gathering will be. No one measure is enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. By working together, we can enjoy safer holidays, travel, and protect our own health as well as the health of our loved ones.