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  • A new survey found roughly half of Americans will require guests to wear masks at holiday gatherings.
  • Last year, almost 70 percent said they would require masks.
  • Experts say keeping celebrations small, and following pandemic precautions like masking and physical distancing, will significantly reduce infection risk.

A new survey finds, while Americans aren’t quite as concerned about COVID-19 infection during this year’s holiday season — a significant percentage still intend to celebrate this year’s festivities cautiously.

The survey, conducted by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, asked more than 2,000 American adults about what, if any, measures they would take to prevent disease spread during the second holiday season of the pandemic.

Masking will remain mandatory in many homes

The survey found roughly half of Americans will require guests to wear masks, compared to almost 70 percent who said they would a year ago.

“The coronavirus is specifically transmitted by aerosols,” Natalia Gutierrez, MD, family medicine physician at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, Texas, told Healthline.

According to Gutierrez, this means the COVID-19 infection can easily be passed from person to person when we’re talking because SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is carried on our breath.

Gutierrez also emphasized there’s no one approach that fits every situation.

“I think that it’s still a very individual approach and it depends very much on the transmission, local transmission and in your community,” she said.

Vaccination status could determine whether you join the festivities

Unsurprisingly, about half of survey respondents said they‘ll ask guests about their vaccination status, with 46 percent saying they’d at least require unvaccinated guests to show a negative COVID-19 test result before allowing them in.

Eric Cioe-Peña, MD, director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, insisted he would only invite people who were vaccinated or tested negative to his home for the holidays.

He also confirmed that gathering at home is safer, because we can control our exposure to people with the infection.

“You can also ask everyone to antigen test on arrival to lower risk,” he said. “That’s harder when there are indoor public spaces involved.”

However, he added that it’s not an “absolute rule.”

Cioe-Peña said that the “details really matter,” pointing out that taking precautions including rapid tests and masks all help to decrease your risk even if people are indoors.

Is home the safest place to be for the holidays?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), multifamily dwellings like apartment buildings and condominiums are potential infection hot spots.

Does this mean home may not be the place to be for the holidays?

Nikhil Bhayani, MD, infectious disease expert at Texas Health Resources said “not necessarily.”

“At least in the home there is less of a crowd, unless you invite more people,” he said. “Crowded gatherings in small spaces with poor ventilation can allow the virus to spread easily.”

Asked how can we make in-home holiday gatherings safer, and what precautions should be taken when planning gatherings, Bhayani pointed out the importance of protecting the very young.

“Protect people not yet eligible for vaccination, such as young children, by getting yourself and other eligible people around them vaccinated,” he said.

He advises unvaccinated people to wear well-fitting masks over nose and mouth when in public indoor settings.

“Even people who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial to high transmission,” he said.

Outdoor celebrations might be safest option, expert says

Robert Glatter, MD, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, confirmed that holding gatherings outdoors, when possible, “significantly” increases safety for everyone attending.

He also noted that it’s not just about vaccination status this year, but that we should ask who has had their boosters.

Glatter said all eligible persons should have a booster shot at least 2 weeks before attending indoor gatherings, to add an additional layer of protection when celebrating outdoors isn’t an option.

“Adequate ventilation and filtration is essential for indoor gatherings to further mitigate risk of transmission,” he said.

Follow these tips for safer holiday gatherings

According to experts at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, following these tips could keep you and your family safer this holiday season.

  • Wear masks.
  • Ask about a guest’s vaccination status before inviting them.
  • Keep gatherings and celebrations small.
  • Consider celebrating with only your immediate household or family.
  • If you have elevated health risks, consider not having guests or at least confirm their vaccination status.

“It’s best to keep the gathering small,” said Glatter. “Limit it to a single household if possible and require all persons to be fully vaccinated.”

He added that older persons who are immunocompromised should have had a booster shot at least 2 weeks before, and make sure they mask while indoors. Glatter cautioned that this group should also observe physical distancing.

“Keeping at least 6 feet of distance is important,” said Glatter. “With no close contact [like] kissing or hugging.”

The bottom line

A new survey from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds many people plan to celebrate cautiously this holiday season.

Experts say keeping celebrations small, and following pandemic precautions like masking and physical distancing, will significantly reduce infection risk.

They also emphasize that vaccination status are very important factors to consider when deciding who to invite to your home.

 



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