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Turkey, pumpkin pie, and COVID tests? Health officials suggest pandemic preparations for holiday gatherings

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 4:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the U.S. approaches its second holiday season during the global COVID-19 pandemic, health officials say 2021′s holiday celebrations won’t be quite the same as they were in 2020.

Last year, many people opted for online or solo holiday celebrations. Now, nearly a year after vaccines were rolled out to the first Alaskans, gatherings don’t have to be quite that separated.

“This has been a long pandemic,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. “Social connections, family, friends, are critically important, so finding ways to connect with others is really important moving forward ... but also realize that we have tools to mitigate against COVID-19.″

In a Thursday media call, Zink gave suggestions for how to keep holiday gatherings safer for COVID-19, even if loved ones who are immunocompromised or otherwise high-risk are hosting or on the guest list.

She said vaccination is the most important tool in protecting everyone at a gathering, even those too young to be vaccinated, but there are other considerations to be made. She says vaccinations now available for kids ages 5-11 will be helpful for the holidays, as kids can transmit the disease. It takes five weeks from the time a person gets their first dose of a vaccine series to be fully vaccinated.

“It’s also important to think about who else you might be having over to dinner,” Zink said. “Say someone might be immunocompromised, or getting cancer treatment or therapy. They may, even if they’re vaccinated, be at higher risk, so you may want to take additional precautions to minimize the risk to them.”

Some ways to take extra precautions for high-risk loved ones, Zink says, include:

  • Testing for COVID-19 before a gathering
  • Minimizing exposure elsewhere for 10 days before a gathering
  • Don’t attend or host a gathering if you are sick or have symptoms of COVID-19, (or anything else, as you could also have RSV or influenza).

“It’s great to share our love and friendship at the holiday season, but not our viruses,” Zink said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a page of holiday guidance that covers other situations like larger gatherings and holiday travel. It recommends masking indoors in public areas if one is not vaccinated, and if one is vaccinated and in an area with high rates of transmission, like most areas of Alaska.

The CDC’s first recommendation is vaccination for everyone who is eligible, and it also suggests masking indoors if someone is at particularly high risk, or lives with someone who is at risk.

Zink said preparing for COVID-19 safety for holiday gatherings is just another way Alaskans can prepare.

“I think of things like the holidays, we prepare for it by going grocery shopping and coming up with our menus and dividing up, and we can do the same thing when we think about COVID,” she said.

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