For many of us, the holidays are a time to gather around the table with family and friends — enjoying food and the company of the people who mean the most to us (while steering clear of politics, of course).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, though, holidays just can't look the same.
This pandemic is still very much a reality, even if you and your loved ones are vaccinated. While COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection from severe illness, protective measures remain important — especially as we continue to learn more about the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, and the Delta variant also continues to spread.
Few things seem better than taking a break from social distancing, taking off our masks and sharing a festive meal with family or friends, but we must all continue to make safety a priority.
That doesn't mean you can't have an enjoyable celebration, though. Here are tips for staying safe while celebrating this holiday season:
Plan ahead when picking up supplies
Because no holiday celebration is complete without the food, grocery stores tend to be a popular destination before a holiday. Rather than running the risk of visiting a packed store, make your grocery list now and beat the crowd by avoiding peak hours.
Keep in mind, even if you're vaccinated, the CDC recommends wearing a mask in indoor public spaces if community spread is high in your area. When approaching fellow shoppers in an aisle or at the checkout counter, remember that six feet is probably further than you think — about two arm's lengths (or two shopping carts).
As an even safer way to stock up the pantry for your holiday meal, you might consider using your grocery store’s curbside or doorstep delivery option.
Know what makes a gathering safe and when you need to play it extra safe
The best way to stay safe while gathering with your friends and loved ones during the holiday season is to get yourself and your family vaccinated (Related: COVID-19 Vaccines for Kids Ages 5 to 11: What Parents Need to Know).
You should also consider getting a booster shot before gathering with your friends and family if you are eligible. Pfizer recently announced laboratory results showing that three doses of its COVID-19 vaccine offer better protection against Omicron, and early observations out of Israel show the same.
Still, gatherings may need to look a little different this holiday season, even if you're vaccinated.
For instance, gathering outdoors, wearing masks and social distancing remain important if the event will include:
- A large group
- Adults who aren't vaccinated
- Young children who aren't fully vaccinated (which is about two weeks after their second Pfizer shot)
- Young children who aren't yet eligible for vaccination
- Vaccinated adults who haven't yet received a booster and were vaccinated some time ago
- Vaccinated loves ones who have weakened immune systems
There may still be times when you should opt to gather outdoors, wear a mask and social distance
For families that are fully vaccinated, a small indoor holiday gathering at home is fairly low risk — although you may still choose to wear masks indoors or move outdoors if you're gathering with loved ones who are vaccinated but have weakened immune systems.
If you're planning to celebrate in an indoor public setting, be sure to wear a mask — even if you're vaccinated. Better still, try to avoid crowded indoor settings altogether this holiday season.
Gathering indoors is still risky for people who aren't vaccinated. Families with unvaccinated loved ones should consider hosting a gathering outdoors. This is also the safer option for families with kids who aren't yet eligible for vaccination or who aren't quite fully vaccinated yet. And keep in mind, if you have a family member who is unvaccinated, digital tools can help you safely gather with them virtually.
In general, make sure everyone you're celebrating with is comfortable with the setup of the gathering.
Stay safe by knowing the symptoms and how to get care
As you're preparing for your get-together, chances are your to-do list doesn't include having a refresher on COVID-19 symptoms. If you or someone in your household begins to experience a slight cough or runny nose, though, it can be cause for concern.
Some symptoms overlap with other common respiratory illnesses, so it's important to know how to distinguish COVID-19 from a cold, flu or allergies.
If you do have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, your first step should be to get screened virtually by one of our board-certified care providers through Houston Methodist Virtual Urgent Care. Video visits are available without an appointment, even on weekends and holidays. Our providers can help determine if you need testing, as well as help you decide where to go. Many people experience only mild symptoms that can be treated at home.
If your symptoms are severe, such as high fever and/or severe shortness of breath, you may need to go to your nearest emergency room. If possible, call ahead to inform the emergency room staff that you're concerned you may have become infected.
Concerned you may have COVID-19?
If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.