Healthy Body

The CDC Just Released New Safety Guidance Ahead of Holiday Season—Here’s What You Need to Know

Nearly two weeks after releasing and rescinding holiday safety guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has re-released updated advice. Instead of providing recommendations for specific holiday gatherings, the latest guidance gives overarching information for what to do across all winter holiday celebrations.

Still, one thing remains constant: the CDC stresses the importance of vaccinations for every eligible family member and holiday guest. Unvaccinated people are six times more likely to catch COVID-19 than those who have received a jab, and they are 11 times more likely to die from the condition, CDC research suggests. so getting vaccinated protects you, as well as younger children and other folks who aren't eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, people who are 12 years old and over are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC explains, and certain populations are eligible for booster shots. Specifically, people 65 years and older, people who are at least 18 years old and live in long-term care settings or work in high-risk environments are eligible for Pfizer booster shots (Moderna boosters should be available in the coming weeks). Folks who are at least 18 years old and have underlying health conditions are eligible as well. And, if you received a one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you'll likely be eligible for a second 'booster shot' soon.

In addition to getting as many guests as possible vaccinated, the new holiday guidelines suggest gathering outdoors where possible and wearing masks, especially if you're in an indoor public area or somewhere with high transmission rates. Additionally, the agency recommends avoiding crowded spaces with poor ventilation. And, if you're traveling this holiday, the CDC encourages "safer travel options" like road trips or shorter flights with fewer layovers. If you are taking public transportation, the CDC says you should wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. And, of course, if you're sick or have any symptoms, you should skip holiday festivities for everyone's sake.

There are more specific situations for people who are immunocompromised or ineligible for the vaccine, but the new recommendations are similar to advice the agency has already given regarding gathering with people outside your household—and vaccination remains the paramount defense.

"Though it may not be socially optimal, I would avoid inviting unvaccinated guests given that most of these holiday celebrations involve significant eating and drinking," says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York. "If someone unvaccinated is present, you're more likely to be infected."

However, Dr. Russo acknowledges that this can be especially tricky in families that have children who are younger than 12 who aren't eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine yet. To that end, if you want to add a layer of protection, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, recommends having all unvaccinated guests get a COVID-19 test before gathering.

Ultimately, Dr. Russo recommends reading through the recommendations and carefully assessing the risks. "You need to think about who will be there, and who will be vulnerable," he says. He also suggests using rapid home COVID-19 tests on the day of your gathering. "These tests aren't perfect but, if everyone gets tested and they're negative, people will be significantly less likely to get sick," Dr. Russo says.

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