Preparing for the Holidays During a Pandemic—Again

Last holiday season, health experts advised against gathering with loved ones as cases of COVID-19 soared. Celebrating together brought significant risks and contributed to all-time peaks for the virus in the United States in January 2021.

This holiday season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for gathering are looser—if you’re vaccinated. And while we’re more used to the pandemic than we were a year ago, it’s still a real threat that needs to be navigated.

Here’s what you can do to celebrate the holidays in a safer way this year:

1. Get vaccinated or boosted.

If you’re not vaccinated, there is still time to become fully vaccinated by the end of the year. Vaccination remains the most powerful thing you can do to protect yourself and the people you love.

“Definitely everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated, and if you’re eligible for a booster, consider that option as well,” says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention.

2. Wear a mask indoors.

If you are getting together with friends or family outside of your household, consider wearing a mask if you will be in close proximity to others while indoors.

“If you’re joining up with multiple households and for an extended period of time indoors, think about activities that maybe could be done with masks on, particularly if you have unvaccinated individuals or immunocompromised individuals in those households,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

If you’re not masked and you’re in crowded indoor spaces, keep your distance from others—especially if you or anyone else is unvaccinated or at high risk for COVID-19 complications.

“Limit how many people you’re around and how much time you’re spending with them,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

3. If you feel sick, stay home.

If you think you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, do not participate in any in-person holiday festivities.

“Be very cognizant of your own health and how you’re feeling, and be willing to be flexible,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “If you aren’t feeling well, you need to isolate. If you’ve been notified that you have an unprotected exposure, you need to quarantine.”

Be flexible with your plans in case you have to change them if you or someone in your household is feeling ill.

4. Wash your hands often and wipe down surfaces.

Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer to prevent germs from entering your body and making you sick. Good hand hygiene is important for preventing the spread of many illnesses. These include other viruses that are prevalent around the holidays, such as RSV, the flu and stomach bugs.

“When it comes to meal preparation and shared meals, this is an important infection prevention measure for all kinds of infectious diseases,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

5. Continue vigilance to protect younger kids and older adults.

Because children younger than 5 cannot yet receive a vaccine, and because vaccinated older adults appear to be at higher risk of breakthrough infections, it’s important for families to continue to follow COVID-19 safety precautions. The best way to do this is to get vaccinated yourself and to ask your child’s caregivers to get vaccinated as well. Unvaccinated caregivers should be masked around young children at all times, and young children should not be in crowds with people who might be unvaccinated.

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