Child holding i'm thankful sign

| 15 days ago

COVID-Safe Thanksgiving

Many families canceled their annual Thanksgiving celebrations last year because of COVID-19. But now we have a vaccine for anyone ages 5-years old and older, leading many families back to the table this Thanksgiving Day. But there are still some things you should keep in mind when gathering, and ways to stay safe, especially for those who can’t be vaccinated.

We all know how different the holidays were in 2020. A year later, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, but the COVID-19 vaccine has given new hope for more traditional family gatherings. With the Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for anyone ages 5-years-old and older, more family members may be protected this year. But it’s still important to maintain COVID-Safe practices, especially if your family includes those who either aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated or have not yet completed their vaccination series. 

Atrium Health experts offer tips and information on what you should and shouldn’t do this holiday season as well as how to protect the smallest family members to make sure everyone can still enjoy Grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie. 

 

Question 1: With COVID-19 still being a risk, what are some of the top things people should keep in mind this year during the holiday season?

Answer 1: Dr. Lewis McCurdy, specialty director of infectious diseases at Atrium Health:

After one of the most unique holiday seasons we’ve experienced in our lifetimes last year, many people may be feeling ready to get “back to normal” this year. But, in reality, many of our recommendations from the 2020 holiday season still apply. The opportunities are still the same for us to be vigilant about safe travel, social distancing and yes, even masking indoors, especially while traveling in airports and hotels and while eating indoors. The big difference this year, is that we have vaccines available for everyone over 5-years-old. That gives a great opportunity for added protection for your loved ones. The reality though is that we’ve had vaccines for adults for nearly a year now and we are still seeing a large amount of people who are choosing not to vaccinate. There are also younger children who aren’t eligible yet and many in the 5-year to 11-year range may not have completed their vaccination series yet, so it’s important to remain vigilant in your behaviors. 

 

Question 2: For families that include children, what should people be aware of when it comes to holiday gatherings? 

Answer 2: Dr. Amina Ahmed, Pediatric Infectious Disease Expert and Epidemiologist at Atrium Health Levine Children’s

While we have heard a lot about how COVID-19 cases amongst children aren’t, on average, as severe as we have seen in adults, they are still happening. We’re still seeing high numbers of COVID-19 cases in children. Even in the last two weeks, children made up 27% of all cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. The other thing to keep in mind is that many of these children may be asymptomatic. If you look specifically at the kids who are asymptomatic, they’re testing positive at a higher rate than those presenting with symptoms. These are what we call “silent spreaders,” versus super spreaders. It’s very important to keep this in mind as we gather for the holidays, because children can be relatively asymptomatic but still infected and can still spread it, especially to those who are unvaccinated. That being said, it’s an amazing accomplishment that we now have the vaccine available for kids as young as 5-years old and it offers them a tremendous level of protection. 

 

Question 3: As we know, there may still be adults and children who aren’t vaccinated. How should you handle gatherings between vaccinated and unvaccinated loved ones?

Answer 3: Dr. McCurdy:

It’s a tough situation. A year ago, none of us were vaccinated so it was easier to come up with game rules around gathering. Now, it’s a hard conversation to have, but probably one that everyone needs to have to find out who is and isn’t vaccinated before getting together for the holidays. Having that information up front can really help in the planning process. Last year we talked about having meals outdoors. That’s still a good option if you’re including those who are unvaccinated. There are other ways to include those who are unvaccinated, including having them stop by briefly and keeping masks on while indoors versus sharing full meals together indoors without masks on. While we have seen an overall decrease in COVID-19 cases in our community, there is some concern that as we see more gatherings now, we could see an increase in the next few months. We certainly don’t want to see spread in families.

 

Question 4: Are we expecting a post-Thanksgiving wave of increased COVID-19 cases? What would that look like? 

Answer 4: Dr. McCurdy:

There are some organizations that do modeling and some models show an uptick after the holidays. That doesn’t mean it will happen, it just means that it could happen. The concern is that there are more people engaging with each other from different parts of the country. I think it’s really hard to predict exactly what the outcome will be, but just based on our experience in the last 18 months, there’s the potential for spread amongst people who haven’t routinely been around each other when we expand our “bubble”. I’m hopeful that because more people are vaccinated this year, the transmission will be less than the numbers we saw in the winter of 2020. But there are a lot of reasons to continue to encourage vaccinations. Some people who were vaccinated early on may have waning immunity and it may be time to consider a booster. You may also have people who have been holding off until now, or children in that 5- 11-year-old group who are just now eligible. Any protection we can offer them is worthwhile.

 

Question 5: If I choose to get my booster now, how long until I’m fully protected again? Does it take two full weeks like the primary series? 

Answer 5: Dr. McCurdy:

What I tell people is basically there is no downside if you are eligible for a booster. The CDC and the FDA recently approved boosters for all adults six months after completing the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine series, or two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We know that every person’s response to vaccine may differ. We also know that certain people, based on their immune response, may get a faster rise in antibodies after a booster compared to the primary series. But there isn’t enough data to say that after five days or seven days, everyone is more protected but antibody response does begin within 7 days. There’s also the hope that there is still some protection from the primary series. But the bottom line is, if you’re going to be traveling or around others, there’s no downside to getting a booster now to give yourself some extra protection. 

 

Question 6: What are the guidelines surrounding shared food and platters at the holiday dinner table?

Answer 6: Dr. Ahmed:

What we’ve learned is that the transmission is most commonly through droplets – being near someone and sharing air space. Could it potentially be spread through other objects? It’s possible, but it hasn’t panned out to be a major player in transmission. It’s okay to share foods like that on a common platter but you wouldn’t want to share utensils. Wash your hands as much as possible through the day. Eating close at a table is still a risk. Obviously it’s challenging to spread out 15 people at a table, but spreading out as much as possible would be better. 

 

Question 7: With all this discussion about COVID-19 and the vaccine, what about the flu this winter? 

Answer 7: Dr. Ahmed:

We were lucky last year. We think, because of masking and social distancing, we didn’t have a terrible flu season. Are we going to see it come back with a vengeance this year? If people stop wearing masks and social distancing goes away, then the simple answer is yes. But if we do continue to follow those COVID-safe behaviors throughout the winter season, it would certainly offer us more protection. And obviously, the most important thing we can do to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. And the flu vaccine is available for anyone ages 6-months-old and older, so you can certainly protect the majority of family members. It’s also important to remember that it’s safe to receive both your flu vaccine and your COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. 

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine or to schedule an appointment to receive your vaccine, please go to AtriumHealth.org/COVID19Vaccine.