CDC Holiday Safety 2021 – COVID-19 Indoor Party Tips for Vaccinated Individuals

  • Federal health officials have released new COVID-19 safety guidelines for holiday celebrations and events later this year.
  • Guidelines call for guests to be fully vaccinated if possible, as this will greatly reduce risk among those who are traveling to visit your home; after earlier guidance was revised, CDC officials also advise heading outside if at all possible.
  • Some Americans will also need to wear masks at holiday parties, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Unvaccinated guests and those who are immunocompromised will need to wear masks, and others around them may need to mask up as well — even if they’re fully vaccinated.

    Hosting a holiday party in 2020 was considered extremely risky for those that had hoped to invite family and friends living outside of their homes. While around 57% of eligible Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, top health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are stressing that more will need to sign up for a full vaccine in order to keep certain loved ones as safe as possible during the holiday season.

    Risks associated with parties and events aren’t new per se, but they’re driven in large part by the viral Delta strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to a COVID-19 diagnosis. While mostly mild in nature, the risk of breakthrough cases is higher than ever, as CDC officials indicate that a current case count of nearly 25,000 nationwide is largely underreported. Plus, other variants could pose a greater threat during the cold winter season.

    After initially posting a set of guidelines that included using a window fan to increase ventilation, CDC officials have released updated holiday guidance that stresses the need for vaccines and mask-wearing for those who cannot receive a shot. Holiday events — including Halloween costume parties, Thanksgiving dinners, Hanukkah celebrations and Christmas gift exchanges, plus all the travel around these traditions — are still risky because they’re multi-generational in nature and adding unvaccinated guests into the mix can complicate the issue, experts say.

    Older loved ones may be immunocompromised or face pre-existing conditions, whereas younger children may not receive full vaccinations in time for the holiday season. And while mask mandates are largely discontinued in many states, those who are unvaccinated must wear a well-fitted mask while indoors to reduce risk among the youngest and oldest in your family. If you’re in a city, town or neighborhood where local COVID-19 transmission is high, even those who are fully vaccinated are being asked to mask up, as experts have established that asymptomatic spread (or those who are sick without any symptoms) is still a major concern.

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    If you can guarantee that everyone on your holiday guest list is vaccinated (and have received a new booster or third dose if advised to) then COVID-19 risk factor is largely reduced, especially if you’re able to host family outside, where risks are considerably lower.

    Stay outdoors and keep masks optional in private settings

    In general, outdoor activities are safer for those who are inviting family, friends and other guests who live outside of their home over for the holidays. This may already feel normal for Halloween events, where the CDC recommends smaller groups head outside to interact with the neighborhood. For Thanksgiving, though, enjoying a shared meal outside (and any social activities like a cocktail hour or parade viewing!) will allow you to largely avoid masks altogether.

    New CDC guidelines indicate that masks can be skipped while meeting outside in uncrowded spaces. If you’re participating in a public event where crowds may congregate, or if the COVID-19 infection rate is high in your area, both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals can greatly reduce the mild uptick in risk while outside by masking up.

    Inside, masks may be necessary for all guests

    While new CDC guidance doesn’t include an official tip regarding window fans, the reason that news outlets covered earlier advice is that experts have long established that poor airflow can greatly increase COVID-19 risk. Since SARS-CoV-2 is airborne, airflow that is stale or non-moving can prove dangerous for any crowd in your home. It’s why outside events are safer and why opening your windows or working on ventilation inside is a smart idea for any holiday event.

    Even with optimal indoor ventilation, masks may still need to be part of your holiday traditions this year, depending on your guest list. CDC officials indicate that masks are still required for vaccinated individuals with pre-existing conditions taking medications that may weaken their immune system; it stands to reason that your other guests and family members will also need to mask up to protect such a guest. Officials made a special note about the need for masks in this case:

    You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease or is unvaccinated.

    Consider a new way of traveling

    While masks are required on all forms of public transportation, those who are ineligible to receive a vaccine at this time — particularly children under 12 — should do their best to stay off planes, trains, buses and ferries. Your family should consider embarking on a potentially longer road trip if all members can’t be fully vaccinated ahead of time, especially if you’ll be visiting another household that houses at-risk individuals.

    At this time, CDC guidance for the holiday season indicated that frequent COVID-19 testing can help reduce the risk of becoming infected, even if testing mandates are not largely required by many states. You’ll find a full list of COVID-19 testing requirements by state published by AARP here.

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    CDC officers maintain an official checklist for unvaccinated individuals for both domestic travel as well as international travel, which includes multiple rounds of testing prior to and after arriving at your destination.

    Regardless of vaccination status, the final piece of planning holiday celebrations this year largely revolves around testing — and creating plans for quarantines in the event that you do test positive for COVID-19. You’ll find a full list of travel criteria (as well as info for certain international destinations) via the CDC’s travel guide here.

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    Associate Health Editor
    Zee Krstic is a health editor for GoodHousekeeping.com, where he covers the latest in health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends, and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle.

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