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5 Things to Consider Before Gathering With Family During COVID-19

Nov. 15, 2021 - Katie McCallum

We're all ready to start spending quality time with our families again — especially with the holidays right around the corner.

If you and your family are vaccinated, you're more protected from COVID-19. This means there's more flexibility in regard to what you can feel safe doing again, including spending time with your extended family.

However, breakthrough infections are possible. So you'll need to continue to be cautious about gathering in very large groups, in indoor public settings and with unvaccinated family members and friends — especially if anyone in your family is high risk. You may also consider getting a booster shot before gathering with your family if you are eligible.

If you are planning to gather with your family this holiday season, here's what you need to know about making the event as safe as possible.

1. Get vaccinated before gathering with your family

Health experts agree: The best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. People who aren't vaccinated are more likely to get sick and, therefore, spread the virus to others as well.

If you're unvaccinated, get vaccinated as soon as possible and, until you are fully vaccinated, approach family gatherings with the utmost caution.

You are only fully vaccinated once two weeks have passed since receiving either:

  • Your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine OR
  • Your first (and only) dose of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine

Whether you're hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines or you don't think you can get COVID-19 twice, make sure you're reading trusted information about the virus and vaccines and reach out to your doctor if you have any unanswered questions. 

2. Know how to travel safely

If gathering with your family also means traveling, be sure you're taking steps to stay safe while traveling during COVID-19.

Wearing a mask is always required while using public transportation, including planes, buses and trains. But it's also the safe choice to wear a mask while in any public setting, especially if community transmission is high in the area.

If you're unvaccinated, the CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

You should also delay traveling to see your family if you:

  • Are sick with COVID-19-like symptoms
  • Have tested positive for COVID-19 and are isolating
  • Have recently come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19

3. Take steps to protect kids who aren't yet eligible for vaccination or aren't yet fully vaccinated

Even if you're vaccinated, you may have young kids who aren't. While children are generally less likely to get very sick from COVID-19, this doesn’t mean they’re immune.

First thing's first: If your kid is age 5 or older, he or she is now eligible to get vaccinated. Just be sure to remain cautious with your child until he or she is fully vaccinated — which is about two weeks after his or her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. (Related: COVID-19 Vaccines for Kids Ages 5 to 11: What Parents Need to Know)

Gathering with family and upholding holiday traditions are important for you and your kids, but families with kids younger than five may have some harder decisions to make while getting together. One of the best ways to protect your family as you gather is to get yourself and other eligible people around your kids vaccinated. It's also important to be sure you're taking extra precautions, such as such as wearing a mask indoors, opting to gather outdoors if possible and keeping your distance.

If travel is required to gather with your family, consider driving or, if you must fly, choose flights with the least amount of layovers. 

4. Take steps to protect vaccinated family members with weakened immune systems

It's still somewhat unclear how protected people who are immunocompromised, such as transplant recipients or those taking immunosuppressive medications, are — even if they are fully vaccinated and have received a third shot.

If a loved one who is vaccinated but has a weakened immune system is attending a family gathering, be sure to take extra precautions, such as wearing a mask indoors, opting to gather outdoors if possible and keeping your distance.

If you are immunocompromised and haven't yet received your third shot, schedule one as soon as possible. Since you may not have responded fully after your first two doses, experts believe an extra dose will help further protect you from getting COVID-19. Your doctor can also help you understand which situations are still fairly risky for you and which aren't.

5. There may still be times when you should opt to gather outdoors, wear a mask and social distance

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 aren't quite fully vaccinated just yet. And keep in mind, if you have a family member who is unvaccinated, digital tools can help you safely gather with them virtually.

For families that are fully vaccinated, a small indoor 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 with weakened immune systems. If you're gathering with your vaccinated family members in an indoor public setting, you should still wear a mask.

In general, be sure everyone attending the gathering is comfortable with the setup.

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