During this year's holiday season many revelers want to celebrate but are concerned about the triple threat of COVID-19, cold and flu. Some hosts are contemplating whether to ask their guests to take COVID-19 tests before getting together to help avoid coronavirus infection.
Michelle Cromer gathered with friends and family for Thanksgiving for the second year in a row. Last year, she required that guests be vaccinated against COVID-19, and she even uninvited her sister-in-law, who wasn’t up to date with her shots at the time.
This year she didn’t have to worry — all 16 of her guests were vaccinated.
Cromer, 62, of El Paso, Texas, says she’d feel uncomfortable hosting unvaccinated people and would feel guilty if someone at her table got COVID-19 and became seriously ill. “I feel really comfortable as a host knowing that that level of protection exists among my guests, but I cannot say the same for a guest that’s not vaccinated,” she says. “And I don’t want to take that kind of responsibility.”
In past years, COVID-19 surges stood in the way of many people’s holiday plans. But as people have started assembling again, hosts are grappling with the right approach. Some have dropped all precautions, but others are wondering: Should they ask guests to be vaccinated or to take COVID tests?
“As we enter the holiday season, it is still unclear if we will see another winter surge, and if so, what that surge may look like,” says David. M. Souleles, director of the COVID-19 Response Team at the University of California, Irvine, and director of the university’s master’s degree program in public health.
In general, he says, people are gathering more this year than last, and people are masking less, which creates opportunities for virus transmission. And compared to last year, many are prioritizing at-home testing in lieu of PCR tests that are reported to public health officials. That means the current case counts in the United States are likely understated, Souleles says.
Holiday COVID approaches
Despite improving conditions, some holiday hosts are asking about vaccine status or requiring testing as a prerequisite for going back to pre-pandemic celebrations. The continued presence of COVID-19 and all its variants means that precautions should still be taken.
“The steps you can take to protect yourself and your family this year are the same as they have been in the past year,” Souleles says. This includes keeping up on vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people get two months after their last dose of vaccine, either a final primary series or original booster dose. “This booster specifically targets the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which are currently circulating in the United States in addition to the original variant,” Souleles says.
Precautions are particularly important for older people, says Shira Doron, M.D., an infectious disease physician and a hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.