Mason COVID-19 expert gives advice for Thanksgiving celebration safety

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Amira Roess. Photo provided

Amira Roess, professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services, Department of Global and Community Health, offers advice on COVID-19 safety over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Q: What are the best ways for an individual to minimize COVID-19 spread and be with family over Thanksgiving?

A: All individuals should get vaccinated, and if they are eligible, should receive the booster. If everyone is up to date on their COVID vaccinations, including boosters, then the chances that someone will be infected and will infect others is very low.

Q: What should a person do if they want to have Thanksgiving with their family, but some of their family members are not vaccinated?

A: The family members who are not vaccinated could put themselves and the rest of their family at risk. Here I would worry, especially about family members who are older and have significant underlying conditions. Unvaccinated individuals should be vigilant to avoid infection leading up to the event. They should wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid crowds.

If you have a large number of family members who are not vaccinated, then you should follow the recommendations from last year. Outdoor gatherings are preferable when there are large numbers of individuals who are unvaccinated coming together from different households. The unvaccinated individuals should wear their masks to protect themselves and others. Having adequate space and ventilation in enclosed spaces are important to reducing the risk of exposure. Consider keeping windows open and arranging your space to facilitate social distancing. You can further cut down the risk of exposure by setting up multiple eating areas so that individuals from the same household sit together.

Q: Is travel by plane and train safe when it comes to COVID-19 spread? What can an individual do to make it safer?

A: If you are up to date on your COVID vaccine, which includes having received the booster if you are eligible, then you have done the most important thing you can do to drastically reduce your risk of infection. However, keep in mind that there are parts of the country that still have high rates of COVID transmission. So go the extra mile and keep your mask on while traveling and avoid crowds as best as you can. 

You can further cut your risk by avoiding crowds in grocery and other stores. Purchase groceries and other Thanksgiving supplies ahead of the holiday. This is especially important in parts of the country that are seeing increases in cases.   

Q: Some people in our Mason community want to get a big group together inside for Thanksgiving. What is the best way to do that?

A: If everyone is vaccinated and received a booster if they are eligible, then the risk of infection at any gathering is low. It is a good idea to require proof of vaccination at large gatherings. In general, as the group size increases, so does the chance you will have unvaccinated individuals attend.  

Q: What should an individual do if there are young children around who aren’t fully vaccinated? Should that change a person’s plans?

A: Children who are eligible to get vaccinated should. Even children who have so far only received one dose—that is, are partially vaccinated—will still have a lower chance of getting infected and of infecting others. Leading up to the event, children who are not vaccinated should be encouraged to follow COVID-19 mitigation protocols. Remember that if everyone eligible to receive the vaccine receives it, then we can break the transmission cycle.

Q: What should people in the Mason community do upon returning to campus after visiting family elsewhere to ensure everyone’s safety?

A: At Mason we have a very high vaccination rate and are increasing our booster rates. In addition, we have a testing program and mask mandates. This layered approach has allowed us to have a very safe community. When you return to campus after Thanksgiving, keep your masks on and get tested three to five days after you return.