In 2020, the fall and winter holidays fell amid a prolonged and terrifying surge in coronavirus cases. Americans were instructed to stay home and hope for a better outlook next year.
This year could indeed be brighter, at least for those who got inoculated. Vaccines offer Americans more options for celebrating, two public-health experts told me. But both cautioned that the picture will somewhat depend on how the COVID situation looks (which we don’t yet know).
If you’re trying to pin down your Thanksgiving plans soon-ish, here’s some advice.
1. The holidays will be all about assessing your individual risk.
Elizabeth Carlton, an associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, offered a three-step approach. First, ensure that everyone in your party who can be vaccinated is vaccinated. Then figure out if you have high-risk attendees (perhaps an unvaccinated child or an immunosuppressed uncle). If you do, consider adding additional layers of protection, such as testing beforehand or moving your celebration outside.
Adults can protect young children by making sure everyone around them is vaccinated, and, in turn, can protect grandparents by keeping kids with symptoms away until parents are sure it isn’t COVID, Carlton says.
2. Be thoughtful about travel.
“If you are deciding where to gather, consider picking a place with higher vaccination rates,” Carlton suggests, because experts see less severe disease and possibly fewer infections in those locations.
Tara Kirk Sell, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, recommends building in some flexibility. “I made holiday travel plans,” she says, “and if I need to reschedule them, then I will.”
3. Start talking about it now.
Family dynamics can be tough. Kirk Sell recommends starting conversations with loved ones about what’s important to your group.
“There’s enough time right now to say, ‘Here are the policies that we’re going to have in place,’” Kirk Sell explains. For example, if you decide tomorrow that you want only vaccinated people at your Thanksgiving dinner, a vaccine-hesitant loved one would still be able to reach full vaccination before the turkey is ready.
4. Stay abreast of new developments.
A lot could change between now and November. New variants could emerge. Boosters are just rolling out to a larger group, and we could see vaccines for kids under 12 this fall. Higher case rates in your local area make gatherings riskier. Keep paying attention.
Oh, and once you’ve got the health stuff out of the way, be sure to figure out who is bringing dessert.
The news in three sentences:
(1) Congress passed a bill to keep the government open (and is still working on all that other stuff). (2) The Department of Homeland Security issued new directives for immigration officers about what cases to prioritize. (3) Employees of Jeff Bezos’s space venture, Blue Origin, alleged toxic working conditions.
Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:
“Endearing’s not my / strong suit”: Read the poem “Lately, I’ve Taken to” by Linda Gregerson.
A break from the news:
A world without children? Climate change is forcing some Millennials to reconsider childbearing.