The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance with best practices for safe holiday gatherings this year, which encourage outdoor and virtual events over indoor celebrations as Covid-19 and the highly infectious delta variant remain a threat.
The agency advises the “safest way to celebrate” the holidays is by having virtual celebrations, gathering outside in a socially distanced way or celebrating only with people in the same household.
For those who do decide to have an in-person celebration, the CDC encourages people to get vaccinated if possible, “have conversations” with those they’re gathering with “to understand expectations for celebrating together,” and not to have or attend a gathering if they’re sick or experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.
People should follow CDC guidance on mask wearing, which directs the unvaccinated to wear masks indoors in public places and consider wearing them outdoors in crowded settings, and for fully vaccinated people to mask up in areas with substantial Covid-19 transmission.
Those gathering indoors should open windows and doors for better ventilation, and the CDC suggests people should put a window fan in an open window so it blows air out of the window, which will “pull fresh air in through the other open windows.”
The CDC encourages people to hold off on holiday travel until they’re fully vaccinated, but if unvaccinated people have to travel—including children who so far aren’t eligible for the shot—the CDC has suggestions for safer travel like making short trips by car and taking flights with fewer stops or layovers.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CBS Sunday “it’s just too soon to tell” whether Americans will be able to safely gather in person for Christmas. “We’ve just got to concentrating on continuing to get those numbers down and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we’re going to do at a particular time,” Fauci said, though he encouraged people to do things in line with the CDC’s guidelines—like wearing a mask, avoiding high-risk settings, and taking steps to improve ventilation when gathering indoors—as the weather gets colder.
Covid-19 cases remain high in the U.S. despite vaccinations as the highly transmissible delta variant has surged, though nationwide cases are now declining. The CDC’s warning comes after last year’s holiday season led to a Covid-19 spike in January, with case rates reaching their highest point of the pandemic, though vaccines were not yet widely available at that point. Covid-19 vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death—and the new rollout of booster shots will likely bolster protection—though studies show the vaccines have diminished effectiveness at preventing infections with the delta variant. Unvaccinated people are still at far greater risk of both infection and severe illness.
A recent Harris poll found 54% of fully vaccinated respondents intend to make vaccination status a factor when they’re making their holiday plans this year, and 50% are hesitant to attend gatherings with unvaccinated family members or friends. Covid-19 might also affect the holiday shopping season, as 66% of fully vaccinated respondents said they’d be very or somewhat uncomfortable attending major sale events like Black Friday.