Holiday traditions are important to everyone. Leslie M. Kantor, chair of the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers School of Public Healthexplains some practical steps people can take to take care of each other while gathering for the holiday.
Is it safe to gather with my family and loved ones this holiday season?
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, with infections and hospitalizations rising, which is not surprising given the increase in holiday gatherings and colder weather bringing people indoors. Omicron – the latest COVID-19 variant – has also been detected in almost all states. While we don’t know much about this new variant, it clearly spreads much more easily than the original COVID-19 strain, even among those who are vaccinated. The good news is that scientists are awaiting our current COVID-19 vaccines with recommended boosters for protection serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant.
Individuals planning to attend or hold gatherings should keep in mind that there are risks to gathering in person, even with precautions such as testing and the requirement for vaccination. Fortunately, there are things we can all do to reduce these risks.
What can I do to protect my family and community?
Ensure attendees have the COVID-19 vaccine plus booster shots: Ensure attendees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have received their booster shots if eligible. While people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine, most people in the United States will receive COVID-19 vaccine -Booster shots recommended states at this point. Early Evidence suggests that vaccines without a booster dose are much less effective against Omicron. Information on COVID-19 vaccination, booster shots and eligibility can be found here.
Get tested: Test and ask those gathered to take a COVID-19 test or rapid test at home on the day people gather. antigen tests–either at a facility or via an at-home test–are good at recognizing if you are contagious e.g. B. able to pass an infection on to others. There are now a number of home tests on the market, often available online from major retail outlets or from your local pharmacy.
The test to find out if you are actually infected, even though you may not yet be able to transmit an infection to others, is the PCR test. If you belong to a risk group of any kind–immunocompromised, over 65 years–You can ask people attending your gathering to take a PCR test a few days in advance, in addition to testing the day of the gathering, or to test and then make sure they don’t have any contacts outside of their household.
Get your flu shot: Flu season is here, so it’s important to get vaccinated against the flu. Information on flu vaccination can be found here.
Wear a mask: Individuals gathering indoors, particularly those who are not fully vaccinated and refreshed, are over the age of 65, are immunocompromised, or have underlying medical conditions that make them more likely to develop serious COVID-19 illness or death , should wear a well-fitting mask over their mouth and nose unless all participants in the gathering have tested negative that day. NIOSH-approved N95 or KN95 masks are best. Here’s a useful video on the importance of mask fit and filtering.
Consider your venue: When planning your meeting, try to use outdoor spaces that are adequately ventilated and large enough to comfortably accommodate your expected guests and avoid crowds. In a typical home, opening a few windows and doors helps improve ventilation and can make a significant difference.
It’s important to keep a close eye on information about the pandemic, as well as the Omicron and future variants, from reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and state and local health authorities. Here is a link to the CDC guidelines for gatherings.
When should I get the booster shot?
As soon as possible if you are eligible. Anyone aged 16 and over who received Johnson & Johnson’s Pfizer or Moderna vaccines six months ago or Janssen vaccine two months ago is now eligible. Information on the booster and eligibility to participate can be found here.