Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

How to Make Holiday Gatherings Safer: 6 Things to Keep in Mind

| Oct. 25, 2021

Last year’s holiday season occurred during a raging pandemic and no vaccines in our toolbox. This year’s holiday season has two clear advantages: (1) we have safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 and (2) we’re much more attuned to risk reduction measures like the availability of at-home testing, ventilation, and better masks that can make any type of gathering safer.

While it can be tricky to try to calibrate individual and family risk given lots of variability in situations like living with someone who is immunocompromised, unvaccinated children or in an area with substantial community transmission, it is clear we can make any gathering safer by applying risk reduction measures.

Now, with the 2021 holiday season approaching, we’re all looking forward to Halloween trick or treating, that Thanksgiving meal with loved ones, Christmas and Hanukah get-togethers and other holiday celebrations. Here are 6 things to keep in mind during your get together.

Vaccination: The best way to make any in-person gathering safer is by getting fully vaccinated. Full protection is provided two weeks after the last dose.   Testing: Getting tested 3 days before the gathering and again on the day of the event is a great way to see if you are actively infected with the virus, regardless of vaccination status. Coupling testing with quarantining 3 days ahead of time can add another layer of protection.   Mask: Wearing a high-quality mask is important when around others who are unvaccinated or at risk for severe illness. Masking become even more important when indoors, and in areas with substantial to high community transmission.   People: While COVID-19 can infect and cause severe illness regardless of age and health status, those that are at highest risk for severe illness include older adults and those with underlying medical conditions, especially if they are unvaccinated. Children who are unvaccinated and persons who are immunocompromised are also vulnerable. Pay special attention to such groups that may be part of the gathering and ensure risk reduction measures are in place to make the gathering safer.    Place: Well ventilated places add on an extra layer of protection. Gathering outdoors is the safest, but indoor gathers can be made safer with increasing fresh air and ventilation.   Time and Space: Try to minimize time in crowded, indoor spaces where masking and ventilation are varied. Putting space between yourself and others can also help.


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For Academic Citation: Madad, Syra and Saskia Popescu.“How to Make Holiday Gatherings Safer: 6 Things to Keep in Mind.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, October 25, 2021.

The Authors