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A layered approach for the holidays

If there are unvaccinated (for whatever reason) at the holiday party, I strongly suggest a layered approach. The more layers we have the more protection for you, the attendees, and the community at large. Here are some key layers:

1. Get people vaccinated. Open a line of communication with unvaccinated, eligible adult family members. About 11% of unvaccinated secretly get vaccinated. So this conversation may be easy because you’ll find that in fact they are truly vaccinated.

If this is not the case, this conversation will probably be difficult. But difficult conversations pay off: 30% of unvaccinated adults change their minds because of family and friends… Once you find the reason for hesitancy, point them to evidence-based resources.

2. Test, test, test. One of the greatest failures of the pandemic is not rolling out affordable, rapid testing for everyone. And, of course, not communicating this option to the public. A rapid antigen test is your best bet before a holiday event with unvaccinated. In fact, it’s your best bet for anything– coming home from a work trip to unvaccinated kids; visiting grandma at assisted living home; seeing an immunocompromised friend; hosting a party. On a population level, we don’t leverage these enough.

A rapid test (also called an antigen test) can be run at home and produces results in about 15 minutes. Antigen tests pick up when someone is most infectious. They aren’t as sensitive as PCR tests though, which means there will be more false negatives. But you can still trust them. They are a much better option than not testing at all, and, honestly, more feasible than PCR’s that typically take a few days to get back (and in the meantime you could have been exposed.)

While PCR’s are much more expensive, rapid tests are still pricey for the average American (about $15-25.) So, many people find it impossible to use these weekly or for test-to-stay programs. It may be a wise investment for a holiday event, though.

They can be hard to find, too. It looks like Walmart has some in stock right now. You can also find these at pharmacies like Walgreens, or public health departments. Access and price may improve with the recent White House announcement in spending a billion dollars to make tests more available (about time.)

If everyone comes to the holiday event with a negative rapid antigen test, then this event is very low risk.

3. Then there’s the usual layers. If #1 and #2 don’t fly with the family, then:

• Masks work great inside

• Outside is better than inside

• Airflow is key

• People that feel sick or have symptoms shouldn’t come

• And, you could always have a smaller celebration with immediate family

Flying

If you’re fully vaccinated, you’re as safe as you’re going to be. Go fly with ease.

For those with unvaccinated children (like me…) The plane is actually incredibly safe. This is because TSA is requiring masks until January 18, 2022 and airlines have been amazing at enforcement (unfortunately at the expense of harassment and even attacks). If masks weren’t required on planes, I’d be pretty uncomfortable flying with my unvaccinated girls. The planes also have amazing filtration systems.

I’m typically more concerned about exposure to and from the plane. Crowded terminals. People taking off their masks. Crowded baggage claim areas. When I travel with my girls we find a little corner that’s largely away from the crowds (this is impossible in the San Diego airport, though.) When we get luggage, my husband or I take them outside while the other fetches bags. I try and get my toddler to wear a mask. I don’t wipe surfaces. We do the best we can.

Bottom line

We can and should celebrate the holidays even if some people are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated. Just take the right steps to celebrate safely. This will protect you, the vulnerable, and the community around you.

Katelyn Jetelina has a Masters in Public Health and PhD in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. During the day she has her own research lab and teaches graduate and medical students. In her “free” time, she writes the blog, Your Local Epidemiologist, to “close the communication loop” between science and the public with 100% data-driven posts backed by the most recent scientific evidence. https://yourlocalepidemiologist.substack.com/

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