“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, in a Nov. 22 news release. “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.”
Here are some health and safety tips as families across the country gather with their loved ones.
Gathering with family and friends
For the 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, Valdez said. Despite this, it is still important to watch for symptoms and get tested symptoms become present, Valdez added.
“Last year, the fear was that if you had symptoms you needed to stay home,” Valdez said in the news release. “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 said it is important to be cautious around those who are immunocompromised and children who have not received their full vaccine doses. Also, outdoor seating is still recommended, if possible, and gatherings should be small and held with just family members, she said.
For those who are vaccinated and displaying symptoms, Valdez recommends social distancing and wearing a mask—even if the test is negative—to lessen the risk of passing other viruses such as the common cold or the flu.
In 2020, serving food buffet-style was not recommended. This year, it is considered safe if everyone is vaccinated and incorporates a few hygiene rules, including keeping hand sanitizer and soap nearby, keeping food covered, ensuring there are utensils for every dish, and washing hands before and after preparing a dish, Valdez said.
“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.
Whether by car or by airplane, extra precautions are needed for travelers, Valdez said in the news release.
Flyers should keep their distance from others, or stick close together with their family or people they know while keeping hand sanitizer on hand and always wear their mask, Valdez said.
“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 in the news release. “If everyone in your family is vaccinated you can cluster together, because we don’t know who all are vaccinated while at the airport. Be cognizant of spacing and [wear a] mask anytime you are going to be surrounded by the masses.”
Finally, drivers should keep hand sanitizer in their car for when they stop at gas stations or rest stops, and wear their masks if they go indoors.