Celebrating Thanksgiving safely during the pandemic
With vaccines and COVID tests more widely accessible, this Thanksgiving feels much safer than last year. However, because there are still individuals who are immunocompromised or not fully vaccinated, it is important to take some precautions before attending a gathering. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine offers some safety tips to keep in mind when gathering with loved ones this year.
“One of the things that’s better this year is that we have vaccines and the advantage of knowledge,” said Isabel Valdez, physician assistant and assistant professor of general internal medicine at Baylor. “We have learned a lot in the last year about how COVID-19 behaves and what it looks like. We also have more access to testing so that if we have symptoms we can get tested right away, even at home. Above all, we have vaccines. We have learned a lot and have come a long way.”
Gathering with family and friends
For those who have been fully vaccinated, it is safe to gather around other vaccinated individuals since there is a lower chance of catching COVID-19 and spreading the infection to others. Despite this, it is important to watch for symptoms and to get tested if you begin to experience symptoms, Valdez explains.
“Last year, the fear was that if you had symptoms you needed to stay home,” Valdez said. “You couldn’t get tested as easily and we didn’t have vaccines widely available, so we were telling people to cancel their plans. This year, assuming you are vaccinated, we are saying to put your plans on hold while you get your test results.”
Valdez recommends still being cautious around those who are immunocompromised and children who haven’t received their full vaccine dosages. She suggests making an outdoor seating area for those who are more comfortable meeting outdoors or keeping the group small to just family. This will lessen the chances of spreading the disease to those who are at risk.
“An ideal scenario would be one where kids could have at least one shot by the time they get to Thanksgiving, which is already going to provide them some protection and lessen their chances of passing on the infection to others who are immunocompromised,” Valdez said.
If you are vaccinated and have symptoms, Valdez recommends distancing yourself and wearing a mask, even if you test negative, to lessen the risk of passing other viruses like the common cold or flu. She recommends that you get the flu vaccine as well before attending any holiday gatherings.
“We still want to use the ground rules from last year if someone hasn’t been fully vaccinated,” Valdez said. “If you are not vaccinated, wear your mask when you are around people, keep your distance, consider limiting your stay and not going if you have symptoms. You could also plan on getting a COVID test a couple of days before your gathering to get extra reassurance.”
While serving food buffet-style was not recommended last year, Valdez said it is considered safe this year if everyone is vaccinated and incorporates a few hygiene rules:
- Keep hand sanitizer and hand soap nearby so people can sanitize or wash their hands before and after getting food
- Keep the food covered – have it set up in a way where guests can easily close the lid
- Don’t use your hands – make sure there are utensils for every dish
- Whoever is making the food, remember to wash your hands before and after preparing a dish
“For those who want to be extra cautious, you can wear your mask and sanitize your hands well before going up to the buffet table regardless of vaccine status,” she said.
Since more people will be traveling this year, Valdez recommends taking extra precautions whether it’s by car or airplane.
While in the airport, try to keep your distance from others or stick close together with your family or people you know. Keep hand sanitizer on you and always wear your mask.
“Even if you are vaccinated, it’s not a bad idea to stay cautious at the airport by wearing your mask and having hand sanitizer with you while walking around crowded places and touching things,” Valdez said. “If everyone in your family is vaccinated you can cluster together, because we don’t know who all is vaccinated while at the airport. Be cognizant of spacing and mask anytime you are going to be surrounded by the masses.”
When traveling by car, keep hand sanitizer in the car for when you stop at gas stations or rest stops. Wear your mask if you go indoors.
If you experience symptoms while traveling, find a way to get tested before reaching your destination or gathering. If testing isn’t easily accessible where you are, consider packing an at-home test in case you or anyone else experiences symptoms.