As the holidays approach, you might have mixed feelings. On the one hand, who isn’t excited about gathering with family and friends for traditional holiday meals and celebrations? On the other, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and you might be worried the coronavirus will spread even more as people gather for festivities.
Fortunately, you and your family members can reduce the risk of getting infected with coronavirus. Virtual gatherings are still the safest way to get together. But if your family will be meeting other families in person this year, the CDC has provided tips for keeping safe as we celebrate:
- Get vaccinated. The best way to protect people both young and old from getting very sick or even dying from COVID-19 is to vaccinate everyone who is eligible. This includes everyone ages 5 and up. And for people over 18 who are already fully vaccinated, a booster shot is now recommended to strengthen the body’s immune response to the virus. Everyone 6 months and up should also get their annual flu vaccine. Flu and COVID-19 vaccines can even be given at the same time.
- Get tested. All hosts and guests should do a COVID-19 test before gathering together, even if they are feeling well. Rapid antigen tests are very good at detecting the virus in someone’s nose or throat when that person has a lot of virus and is contagious. These tests are quick (results are ready in 15 minutes) and easy to do. They can be purchased online and at many different stores. They can also be done in pharmacies and other testing sites. If a person tests positive, this means they are infected, and they and their family should stay home. If everyone has a negative test, the chances are very low that someone is contagious and could spread the virus. Anyone who is not feeling well should do a test and stay home regardless of the test result.
- Wear masks, if over age 2. Masks are especially important for people who are not yet vaccinated, and for those at higher risk of getting sick with COVID-19 (such as people with weak immune systems). And they are particularly important for indoor gatherings, where the virus might linger in the air. In areas where lots of people are getting COVID-19, everyone should wear a mask when indoors or in crowded outdoor settings, even if they are fully vaccinated.
- Make sure there is good ventilation. Get together outdoors, if possible. If indoors, open windows or run portable air filters to make sure the air circulates well.
- Follow COVID-19 travel guidelines. When planning trips, review travel advisories to make sure your destination is safe. When crossing borders, find out what testing is required in your home country and at your destination. Airlines and airports, ships, train stations and other entry points may have their own rules. All people need to wear masks on public transportation, even those who are fully vaccinated.
Taking as many precautions as possible is the best way to keep everyone healthy as they celebrate together. This is called a layered approach. Sometimes one layer might be missing (for example, a family might not have access to rapid antigen tests on the day of the gathering). But if we all try to use as many protective layers as we can, our holiday season can be safer and healthier.