The third holiday season with COVID-19 is approaching, and everyone agrees that COVID fatigue exists. A few simple steps of caution can make being with family and friends enjoyable while reducing the risk of illness from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu.
Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services offers the following things to keep in mind when planning for family gatherings:
- Make plans with the highest-risk person in the family and friends group in mind. Talk to family members ahead of time to figure out the plan. Encourage everyone to take additional precautions if a high-risk family member is attending. This means being up to date on all vaccinations and could include limiting the number of people invited. If the weather cooperates, think about moving meals outdoors.
- Get the new bivalent COVID-19 booster. Everyone who is eligible (ages 5 and up at least two months after their latest dose) should get the new booster to add an extra layer of protection. There are County-operated clinics and private providers offering both the Moderna and Pfizer bivalent boosters. Visit GoVaxMoco.com to see dates, times and locations.
- Pay attention to symptoms. In the days before the event, and especially the day of, watch out for COVID symptoms: sore throat, congestion, coughing, fatigue, headaches and muscle pain. People infected with BA.5, the dominant variant, are less likely to report losing their sense of taste and smell. If you feel sick, stay home—even if you have a negative rapid test.
- Test wisely. Everyone should test before a family gathering—the question is when to test and how many times. There are differing opinions on the exact timing and combination of tests that should be taken, but for the most accurate measure of whether or not you are contagious, take an at-home rapid test immediately before an event. If you have been wearing masks regularly, limiting contact and do not have symptoms, a negative test is a good measure. If you wake up with a scratchy throat and have interacted with someone who tested positive, consider staying home even if the tests are negative.
- Consider a mini-quarantine before a holiday gathering. Wear a mask in public indoor spaces and limit the time spent around crowds—for example, time trips to the grocery store for when they are not overwhelmingly packed. If traveling, check case counts for the area you are visiting.
- Mask up when traveling. Whether taking a plane, bus or train, make sure to wear a mask.
- Ventilate your space. If holding an event outside is not an option, increase air circulation and reduce the risk of trapping and transmitting the virus. Portable air purifiers with HEPA filters can be expensive, but even opening windows slightly can improve air flow.