Keep COVID Off Your Vacation Guest List

The holiday season is fast approaching. And, as we peruse our collections of treasured holiday ornaments, put Santa and his reindeer on the lawn, and plan elaborate feasts, health experts advise us to devise a strategy to keep our friends and family safe. -loved ones from COVID-19 infection. This is especially important to protect older family members.

Dr. Dali Fan, a cardiologist and clinical professor of health sciences at the University of California, Davis, says he expects COVID-19 cases to rise this winter.

“I wouldn’t call it a ‘push’, which carries the tone of an uncontrolled situation. But an increase in cases in winter is likely, and we must remain vigilant,” Fan said.

Boosters provide protection

About 80% of Americans have received their first round of COVID-19 vaccines, but only 10% have taken advantage of the updated booster, which is supposed to recognize and provide protection against the Omicron variant.

In mid-October, the BA.5 subvariant accounted for 70% of COVID-19 cases in the United States. But rapidly emerging sub-variants BA.4 and BA.4.6, which account for 13% of infections. BQ.1 and BQ1.1, two immuno-evasive variants, are increasing rapidly and account for about 11% of cases in the United States, the CDC said in a November 4 report.

“It’s unclear if any of them will overtake BA.5 as the country’s dominant COVID strain,” Fan said. “This makes obtaining a new Omicron-specific COVID booster all the more crucial.”

professional fanprovides tips to protect our families from COVID-19 infection as we celebrate the holidays.

Holidays usually mean big indoor parties, often with poor ventilation due to inclement weather. Are these gatherings super-spreader events?
Fan: The short answer is yes. Hosting a holiday party indoors is considered risky for those who invite family and friends living away from home. The risks associated with parties and events are largely due to the highly infectious Omicron strain of COVID-19.

A Harris poll conducted last year found that 54% of fully vaccinated respondents intend to take vaccination status into account when planning their vacation. More than 50 percent are hesitant to attend gatherings with unvaccinated family members or friends. So if you’re concerned, you’re not alone.

How can hosts protect their guests from Covid infection when meeting indoors? Conversely, what can guests do?
First, urge everyone on your holiday guest list to get vaccinated and get a new, updated booster or third dose if advised by their healthcare provider. This will be the greatest reduction in the COVID-19 risk factor.

Second, if you can, house your family outdoors, where the risks are considerably lower.

Third, protect yourself when attending indoor gatherings. Wear a properly fitted mask, keep a safe distance from others and wash your hands frequently.

Finally, if you are sick, stay home.

Would you recommend wearing a mask at an indoor Christmas party, even if the people around you choose not to wear them? And should the size of gatherings be limited?
Wearing a mask in indoor spaces helps slow the spread of many different respiratory viruses, including RSV, influenza, and COVID.

I personally recommend that if you’re going to get together with people who don’t live in your home and local transmission rates are high, wear masks, if possible. It can be annoying and embarrassing. But it reduces your risk, that of your host, as well as that of your loved ones.

If the meal can be enjoyed outdoors with a limited number of people, it is safer than congregating indoors. If the celebration is to take place indoors, opening the windows can increase ventilation.

Who should wear masks?
Other people who should consider wearing masks include:

Younger children who may not be able to receive full vaccines

Elderly guests who may be considered immunocompromised but unable to complete vaccination and those with pre-existing conditions that put them at high risk for serious illness

Those who live in a city or town where local transmission of COVID-19 tends to be high, as asymptomatic spread (those who are sick without any symptoms) is always a concern.

Would you recommend that hosts impose a COVID test on each of their guests on the day of the gathering?
I don’t think a COVID testing mandate is necessary, but those who feel safer before traveling or attending in-person events should feel free to do so.

How do we ensure the safety of elderly family members and people at high risk? If a resident of a long-term care facility joins you, what safety measures would you suggest for them and your guests?
Remember: Compared to young adults, people over 65 are 60 times more likely to die from COVID-19, according to the CDC. The death rate is 340 times higher for people over 85. This underscores the need to get vaccinated and take extra precautions depending on your situation, such as masking up or celebrating outside or virtually if necessary.

People living in long-term care facilities are generally most at risk. Inform your guests of their presence.

Will boosters play an important role in keeping people safe on vacation?
I believe that the booster doses of the COVID vaccine are crucial. Please keep in mind that while the original mRNA coronavirus vaccines were shown to be effective in preventing death and severe illness from COVID-19, breakthrough infections and reinfections have become more common in the face of evolving virus and diminished immune protection over time. Boosters can boost protection on both fronts.

The updated booster is a bivalent vaccine, meaning it contains two components of messenger RNA (mRNA) from the coronavirus. Half of the vaccine targets the original strain and the other half targets the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariant lines, which are expected to continue circulating this fall and winter.

When’s the perfect time to take the shot, to protect yourself through Thanksgiving and beyond?
It will take you about two weeks to start developing protection against the initial COVID vaccine. It usually takes a few weeks for the body to produce T cells and B cells after vaccination. But the protection begins to wane after about six months.

So the best time to boost yourself for the holidays is now.

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