The most recent surge of Covid-19 cases has Americans questioning whether it's still smart or safe to gather with friends or family this holiday weekend. Like so many questions regarding the pandemic, the answer is: It depends.
"Somebody that is vaccinated and boosted and is going to test before meeting and is going to be with other people who fit that same profile is in a different scenario than someone who is unvaccinated and going to be in an unvaccinated group," says Lindsey Dawson, the associate director of HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
With plane tickets and presents bought, the decision to cancel plans can be not only disappointing but costly. However, the highly contagious omicron variant now makes up 73% of all Covid-19 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So this holiday season it's important to "mitigate risk" before returning home, Dawson says.
Reach out to everyone attending your holiday gathering, says Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, so that you can find out some key information. Is everyone vaccinated? Has anyone been exposed to someone with Covid lately? Is anyone feeling under the weather?
"This is not meant to create stigma or judgement," he says. Asking friends and family their vaccine status and related questions is simply the first step to deciding whether it's smart to attend your gathering.
Once you know whether your friends and family are vaccinated, boosted, or neither, you can assess the risk the situation might pose to you, says Dawson.
"Unvaccinated people gathering with other unvaccinated people indoors are at the high end of risk-taking," she says. "On the low end of risk taking are people who are vaccinated and boosted and testing and gathering in a smaller group."
Galiatsatos agrees that if the risk is low enough, gatherings can proceed.
"If everyone is vaccinated and you feel confident none of them have symptoms, and they are vaccinated and boosted, it's fine to say, 'Come to the house,'" he says.
It's not a bad idea for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to get tested before a gathering.
At-home tests are sold at many pharmacies, as well as brick-and-mortar retailers such as Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and online. They usually retail for between $14 and $24 for a box containing two tests.
However, tests are selling quickly and some stores are putting purchase limits on their available stock. If you only can get ahold of a few tests, it's more important for unvaccinated people to take them, Galiatsatos says.
"I would really utilize testing for unvaccinated people who plan to come," he says.
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