The headlines are still filled with news about COVID-19, with the new Omicron variant sweeping the globe as an average of about 1,200 Americans are still dying each week from COVID-19. However, as vaccines are now widely available, many people are planning to gather in person once again after many people skipped holiday gatherings in 2020 to keep people safe. However, there are still risks in gathering with people, and it is important to understand how to stay safe during family gatherings.
The importance of COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has offered the same good advice to people since the start of the pandemic, and much of it is still the same–because it is effective. The biggest advancement in the fight against COVID-19, of course, is vaccinations. Currently, about 61% of Americans are fully vaccinated. One of the most important ways to prevent getting COVID-19 yourself, and from getting a severe case of it, is to get fully vaccinated and to get a booster shot.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration authorized booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for everyone ages 18 and older on Nov. 19, and then authorized them for 16- and 17-year-olds on Dec. 9. People who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine should get a booster at least six months after their last dose. For those who received the Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccine, people should get a booster at least two months after their initial single dose.
Vaccination largely prevents people from getting severe cases of COVID-19, which can result in hospitalization or death. Vaccination also prevents people from getting mild COVID-19, which can result in long COVID, which results in long-term health issues and symptoms. However, even when fully vaccinated, a person may still be able to transmit it to other people. The largest source of transmission, though, is between non-vaccinated people.
How to gather when people have mixed vaccination status
So, what does that mean for your New Year’s Eve party?
Unfortunately, it likely means having conversations with friends, family members, and loved ones that may be uncomfortable. If you are hosting a gathering, it is important to engage in clear communication and setting boundaries with people. If you are the host, you may require everyone to be vaccinated or have a negative test from the day before or day of the gathering for them to join. If you are invited to a gathering where unvaccinated people will be present, you may need to let your friends, family members, or loved ones know you are not comfortable attending.
If you are comfortable attending a gathering, these tips can help to keep people safer:
- Limit the number of people gathering. It may be smarter to have smaller gatherings this year, or to have a virtual option for people to attend via Zoom to say hi to everyone. This option can be particularly helpful for people who are elderly, have an underlying condition, or otherwise at higher risk of contracting the virus.
- Get tested. Regardless of your vaccination status, getting tested before your party will help you determine whether you should host or attend a gathering. If you test positive, or if you have any symptoms, do not attend or host a gathering.
- Wear face masks. Encourage guests to mask up during the gathering. Also, practice removing your face mask only to take a sip or bite, and then replacing your mask.
- Maintain social distance. Arrange furniture so that people can sit to talk with one another while still maintaining 6 feet of distance from one another. It is also important to space people apart from one another while eating, when face masks are not being worn constantly.
- Make sure airflow is good in the area. If you live in a place where gathering outdoors is impractical due to weather, try to ensure you have good airflow by opening windows and/or doors and utilizing fans placed in windows to direct air out of the window.
- Wash your hands. It seems basic, but soap and water are an excellent defense against COVID-19. If you can’t wash your hands, then use hand sanitizer.
Taking these precautions can lead to safe, fun gatherings that prevent the spread of COVID-19 and allow you to spend time with the people you love to ring the New Year in.
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