Published on in Health Tip of the Week
As the number of vaccinated people across the country continues to increase and COVID-19 cases begin to decline, it may be tempting to approach spring events with less caution. However, even though we believe we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the midst of a pandemic with lives lost daily. It’s important that we remain vigilant in our efforts to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. As you plan for Easter, Passover and any other spring gatherings, these recent updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) provide new guidance on how you can celebrate safely.
Updated CDC guidance
Here’s the good news: according to the CDC’s most recent guidance, people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors with small groups of other vaccinated people without wearing a mask or physically distancing. Vaccinated people can also spend time indoors with unvaccinated members of a single household, as long as everyone is at low risk of COVID-19.
In other words, if your child’s grandparents have been vaccinated, and no one in your immediate household is at high risk of COVID-19, you can feel safe enjoying a small family gathering this spring.
However, unvaccinated members of multiple households should not gather together, at least not yet. And even for fully vaccinated individuals, gathering in medium- and large-sized groups is still not recommended. Because we don’t yet know if COVID-19 vaccines fully protect against asymptomatic transmission of the virus, fully vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and practice physical distancing in public and when spending time with members of multiple households.
Tips for in-person holiday gatherings
If you decide to have an in-person gathering this spring — despite the potential risks, particularly for unvaccinated individuals — these tips may help keep your family and loved ones safe.
Because travel increases your chance of getting — and spreading — COVID-19, the CDC and many local, regional and national health experts continue to discourage travel, even for vaccinated people.
If you must travel this spring, please follow as many safety precautions as you can, including keeping physically distant from others, wearing a mask and washing your hands frequently.
If you have unvaccinated adult children or parents who will be joining your household to celebrate a spring holiday or event, ask them to self-quarantine for at least 10 days before arriving to your home (7 days with a negative COVID test) and if they exhibit any signs of illness, to stay home and get tested.
This is especially important for guests who will be taking flights or long bus/train rides home; these types of travel may increase the risk of potential COVID-19 exposure ahead of your event. To be safest, quarantine should occur AFTER traveling and BEFORE interacting with others.
Keep in-person gatherings small and outdoors
The safest way to approach the holidays is to not gather with people outside your household. If you are choosing to host or attend an in-person gathering, please follow as many safety practices as you can to lower risk:
- Limit the number of guests, especially if any or all of your event must be held indoors.
- With the weather warming up, consider hosting your event outdoors. Set up smaller tables — or staggered seating — where individual households can eat together with their masks off and yet remain physically distant from others who don’t live with them.
- Strongly encourage all guests to wear their masks at all times except when actively eating or drinking.
- Designate one person (wearing a face mask and gloves) to serve the food. By having only one person serving the food, cross-contamination on utensils and serving dishes can be minimized.
- Cover food when it is not actively being served. This will keep the food warm while also avoiding any nearby germs.
- Encourage guests to clean up after themselves and their immediate family. This limits the number of people touching potentially contaminated items. Consider disposable items like utensils and napkins that can be thrown away after the meal.
- Be aware that drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions and may make guests become lax with masking and physical distancing recommendations.
Skip physical contact
While it may have been a long time since you’ve seen some family members, now is not the time for unvaccinated people to exchange hugs, kisses and handshakes with members of another household. Getting too close to people outside of your household increases everyone’s chances of getting COVID-19. Unvaccinated older relatives and those with compromised immune systems may be particularly vulnerable, but anyone can catch COVID-19. If we work together, we can limit our exposure.
Expanding your options
If you can’t be with the ones you love in person, consider these alternatives to an in-person gathering.
Eat together virtually
Set up your phone, tablet or computer and encourage your family and friends to connect via video. It won’t be exactly the same as being together, but you will still be able to experience familiar sights and sounds. Coupled with tasting and smelling traditional foods, the full experience will help you remember past holidays together and allow you to make plans for future gatherings. If you live close to dear friends or family, consider delivering a special dish so your family can be represented at your loved ones’ meal.
Share recipes before the meal
Encourage your family and friends to share recipes they’ve made or enjoyed at previous family gatherings. Everyone can try a few new recipes or old standbys on the day of the celebration and share their results virtually.
Honor family traditions
Think about your family’s holiday gatherings. Are there small traditions you can still do virtually? Perhaps saying grace together or making a toast. Honor past traditions and consider adding new ones that can be practiced virtually this year, but may continue to be impactful in future, in-person gatherings.
By working together and caring for each other, we can help ensure many more seasons spent together.
Masking Do’s and Don’ts
Want to protect yourself against COVID-19? Make sure you use effective masks (2 layers) and wear them covering both your nose and mouth.
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Contributed by: Susan E. Coffin, MD, MPH