The holiday season is upon us and, now more than ever, many of us are hoping to spend a little time with our loved ones.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic still present and the emergence of the omicron variant, how safe is it to gather with friends or family for a holiday get-together?
“It’s important to have family gatherings, but we know vaccinated people can still get infected,” says Dr. Janet Englund, an infectious disease specialist and professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine.
To keep each other safe, we need to plan ahead for the holidays and take precautions to prevent spreading the virus.
Is it safe to gather for the holidays despite the omicron and delta variants?
You had your plans in place and felt reasonably ready for holiday get-togethers when omicron stepped onto the scene. Now you’re not so sure. Should you cancel your holiday plans or is it still safe to gather?
“When it comes to the new variant, I don’t think anyone knows the answer quite yet. Over the next couple weeks, we’re going to find out more. Will that change your vacation plans? Maybe,” Englund says.
She notes that there are numerous reports that omicron spreads more readily, even in vaccinated people, but that scientists need more time to determine the severity of omicron cases and if it’s safe for vaccinated people to gather.
So, what can you do right now? First things first: Try not to panic. Be sure to follow health experts like the Department of Health for updated recommendations, risk assess your holiday plans and prepare so that your events are as safe as possible.
COVID-19 Holiday Safety Tips for 2021
What to do to mitigate your risk of infection.
The single most important safety measure is to get vaccinated before getting together, Englund says.
This includes vaccines for kids ages 5 and up and booster shots for people 16 and up.
“Getting a booster at least six months after your shot is the best way to protect against omicron and delta, protect yourself and prevent spread,” Englund says.
Consider who is coming and discuss risk
Before the event, think about who might be at greater risk in your group and how you can help prevent them (and everyone else) from getting sick.
The safest option is for everyone to be vaccinated before getting together. This is especially important for adults 65 and older, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant people, who are all at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. However, this may not be possible in all cases, such as gatherings with children under the age of 5 who are not able to receive the vaccine yet.
What you can do is determine everyone’s vaccination status and share this information so that each guest can make an informed decision on whether they feel safe to attend the event.
“It’s absolutely acceptable to ask about vaccination status before guests show up,” Englund says.
For those who are not vaccinated, testing for COVID-19 48 hours before the event can also help keep people safe.
Test before you travel
On that note, you can mitigate spread by getting a COVID-19 test before you travel and roughly 48 hours before seeing others in person, Englund says.
You’ll also want to research your destination so you know if it is a high-infection area (in which case it might be best to postpone your trip), as well as if there are any additional COVID-19 testing and safety requirements you need to follow.
To better protect yourself from COVID-19 infection, try to drive instead of fly. If you must jet set, practice plane travel safety measures, such as wearing a mask correctly in the airport and on the plane and washing your hands often.
Avoid gatherings if you’re sick or symptomatic
This one is tough but straightforward: If you have symptoms of COVID-19 — a runny nose, sore throat, cough, headache or muscle aches, or loss of taste or smell — you should not go to the holiday gathering.
Even if you think it’s a cold? Even if it’s just a sniffle? Even if you get tested? Yes, Englund says, even then.
It could be devastating not to attend the holiday gathering in person, but it’s also essential to keep your loved ones safe and healthy. To help prevent yourself from getting sick in the first place, practice safety measures like washing your hands and wearing a mask.
Utilize safety measures
You know the drill.
“We are all tired of this,” Englund says. “But we need to continue doing what we all know has been working pretty well.”
While you likely know them by heart, here are the practices that will allow you to get together with loved ones without unnecessary risk: wear a mask in indoor settings, wash your hands often and move activities outside when possible.
What can you do to cope with holiday blues or loneliness?
So, it’s normal and OK if you are feeling disappointed or lonely this holiday season.
To help yourself cope, try to take advantage of technology to connect with loved ones that you can’t see in person, spend quality time with those who you currently in your bubble and set aside time to care for yourself.
Practicing some small healthy habits can go a long way to making you feel better, whether you’re going on a walk, making art or writing in a gratitude journal.
Ultimately, we will all need to adapt to help keep one another healthy — both mentally and physically.
The info in this article is accurate as of the publishing date. While Right as Rain strives to keep our stories as current as possible, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. It’s possible some things have changed since publication. We encourage you to stay informed by checking out your local health department resources, like Public Health Seattle King County or Washington State Department of Health.