Masks and outdoor gatherings will still be the best way to make holiday gatherings safe this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in new guidance.
The CDC's number one advice is for all those who are eligible to get the Covid-19 vaccine before people get together and travel at the holidays. For kids ages 11 and under who aren't yet eligible to get the vaccine, the CDC recommends all those who will be around them over the holidays be vaccinated to protect them.
Unvaccinated adults in the US face an 11 times higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than fully vaccinated individuals and a six times higher risk of testing positive for Covid-19 according to new data published Friday from the CDC.
For indoor gatherings, people should still wear masks in public indoor settings, especially the unvaccinated, and especially in areas with high transmission of the disease.
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Outdoors is still considered safer than indoors for gatherings. Families may want to take additional precautions before they get together, and get tested. The CDC also suggests people avoid crowded spaces before traveling.
The guidance this year is not holiday-specific like it was last year. The guidance published Friday comes after some confusion earlier in the month when the CDC published an update to its holiday pages on its website. The CDC said at the time that it was just a technical update to the page.
After a recent downturn in Covid-19 hospitalizations in the past month, some public health experts have warned that the US could see another spike in cases this winter, particularly around the holidays.
"I think we're making some important progress in terms of increasing vaccinations, but the fact of the matter is there are still dangerous gaps in immunity throughout the country, and as long as that's the case, there are still pathways for the virus to spread," said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
"I'd like to think that the worst is behind us, just given how much we've already endured in terms of high numbers of cases but also increasing progress in increasing vaccination. So I don't think that a rise in cases in the winter will be as bad as last year's winter surge, but there's nothing built into the decline that means that the momentum will be sustained. What we will see is really up to us."
By masking up and getting vaccinated, families have much better options than last year when the CDC had steered people away from travel and gathering in person in the era before vaccines.
"By working together, we can enjoy safer holidays, travel, and protect our own health as well as the health of our family and friends," the CDC said.