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Welcoming Family Into Your Home for Thanksgiving? Here’s How to Keep COVID Out

This year, 80% of people 12 and up are now vaccinated with at least one shot, and about half of Americans are planning to gather in groups of 10 or more for the holidays, a recent survey shows.

While many of us are ready to reboot our holiday traditions, COVID cases are once again rapidly climbing — with nearly 95,000 new cases a day. Even if your family is fully vaccinated, remember your most vulnerable family members, particularly people over 80 or the immunocompromised, are still at higher risk of severe COVID.

Nearly two years into this pandemic, we’ve learned a lot about how to reduce the risks of catching and spreading this virus, including the simple steps of masking and hand-washing. Let’s not forget now.

Here are some reminders for how to keep your family gatherings safe.

If you’re gathering with grandparents or other elders, realize: They’re still at risk

Reality check: People over 80 have an elevated risk of dying from COVID, even if they’re vaccinated.

While the vaccines offer strong protection against hospitalization and death, breakthrough infections are a reality. Often, a coronavirus infection following vaccination leads to only mild illness, and sometimes people test positive but show no symptoms at all. However, older people and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of getting a severe breakthrough COVID case.

Though it’s rare for breakthroughs to lead to hospitalization or death, the chances for one group are higher.

So, bottom line, even if everyone invited to your holiday gathering is vaccinated, it’s still important to protect loved ones who are older or immune-compromised.

Get a booster shot if you’re eligible

Federal health agencies now recommend COVID vaccine boosters for all adults, six months after their last shot — and they may be especially important for adults over 50 or any adult with underlying conditions or a high-risk job. Getting one before holiday travel and gatherings could increase your immunity against COVID.

White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said the new analysis points to a significant increase in protection (against symptomatic infection) from a booster dose.

Rapid tests can protect your guests. Here’s how to time taking them

As a risk-reduction measure, you might want to ask your guests to take a COVID test before a large holiday get together. There are plenty of over-the-counter rapid antigen tests, such as the Abbott BinaxNOW or Orasure InteliSwab, available online and in pharmacies.

The tests are not 100% reliable if someone has just been exposed, explains Emily Landon, an infectious disease physician at the University of Chicago. “The test really doesn’t pick up really low levels of the virus in your nose, and so it’s not going to pick up a really early infection,” she says. So she recommends taking the test the morning of the gathering, or as close to the start of the gathering as possible.

Think carefully about how to include unvaccinated family members

“I think it’s reasonable for people to require their guests to be immunized,” says Guzman-Cottrill, especially if guests include kids too young to be vaccinated (or who have only received their first shot) or people less likely to have a strong immune response to the vaccine, like the immunocompromised.

An alternative option is to ask an unvaccinated guest to do a lab-based PCR test 24 to 48 hours before the event (as long as they’re able to get the results back in time) or a rapid antigen test COVID test just before their arrival.

Take precautions if your young child is unvaccinated or has only had one shot

An easy step to take if you’re concerned about your unvaccinated kids passing the virus to grandparents is to mask up, not only during the visit, but also for a week in advance when in public, especially avoiding crowded, indoor spaces, even if mask mandates are not in effect.

Another option: if you live in a temperate climate, stay outdoors as much as possible for mixed-generation social events, and maybe choose to not sleep over in the same house with the grandparents.

Bottom line: “You have to think about the risk of the individuals involved — about what would happen if they got COVID,” say Landon. And better to err on the side of caution.

Excerpted from “Welcoming Family Into Your Home for Thanksgiving? Here’s How to Keep COVID Out” from NPR. Read the full article online.

Source: NPR | Welcoming Family Into Your Home for Thanksgiving? Here’s How to Keep COVID Out, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/11/20/1057237292/covid-risk-holidays-booster | © 2021 npr

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