Thursday, November 18, 2021

Home (Safely) for the Holidays

One of the worst aspects of the Covid pandemic has been the isolation. Last year, many of us had to forego our holiday family traditions and get-togethers in the interest of safety. This year, with the widespread availability of vaccines, we hope to once again be with our loved ones around the holidays. At the same time, the Delta variant and the rising case count seen in many states makes us nervous, as do reports of break-through infections in vaccinated people. What can/should we do?

A few facts can guide our behavior. The first is that no activity in life is 100% safe. If you are travelling “over hill and dale to grandma’s house” in a car, you are accepting the risk of being injured or killed in an accident. You can of course minimize this risk by wearing a seatbelt, not driving under the influence of alcohol and obeying traffic laws. Second, while no vaccine is 100% effective, the current Covid vaccines are pretty darn good, reducing your risk of getting seriously ill by some 90%.

Here are some possible holiday scenarios and my suggestions for how to handle each:

Scenario 1: everyone attending your get-together who is eligible (is over 5 years old) has been vaccinated, including a booster where appropriate, and no one is immunocompromised or a frail elder. In this situation, I would feel free to socialize freely and not wear masks or require any tests. Go ahead: hug each other. [It goes without saying that someone who is sick should not attend!]

Scenario 2: everyone is vaccinated, but you will have a frail elder or someone who has a compromised immune system with you. In this situation you need to be more careful. Again, strictly advise guests to stay away if they are sick, but in addition, I would ask everyone coming, including children, to do an at-home antigen test the morning of the gathering and stay away if positive. [Any person testing positive should also follow through with their primary care doctor or local public health nurse.]

Scenario 3: at least some of your potential guests are not vaccinated. Here it gets sticky. If everyone else is fully vaccinated and in good health, you must decide if you are willing to accept the risk of getting infected, knowing that the vaccine you received will probably mean you will have nothing worse than a bad cold. Ask them to do a home test the morning of the event and stay away if the test is positive and/or they have any cold symptoms. You should warn all your invitees that there will be unvaccinated guests so they can decide if they want to attend.

3a: If you will have elderly grandparents or friends/family with compromised immune systems with you, I suggest you tell the unvaccinated that they would be putting others at risk and that while you hope to see them next year, they are not welcome this year. There is always Zoom.

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