“There are several ways to enjoy holiday traditions and protect your health, said Kurt Larrick, assistant director, Arlington County Department of Human Services. “The best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.”
From keeping a space well ventilated to holding celebrations outdoors if the weather permits, Larrick says that it is possible to maintain a semblance of safety at celebrations where there are some in attendance that have not been fully vaccinated.
Taking layered precautions provides an extra level of safety, said Lucy H. Caldwell, Director of Communications for the Fairfax County Health Department. "Including wearing a mask indoors when you’re around those not in your household. … Getting booster shots if appropriate and staying home if you’re sick,” added Caldwell.
Hosting smaller gatherings this year can also help minimize the risk of COVID-19.
“You might choose to wear a mask, regardless of the level of transmission, if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated," he said. “If you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, you could consider additional precautions like taking COVID-19 tests ... in advance of gathering to further reduce risk.”
Having conversations to discuss whether guests have been vaccinated can be fraught with apprehension and discomfort. “Establish contact with all guests in a general way, and say you are looking forward to them joining you for a holiday party, dinner, or open house,” said Linda McKenna Gulyn, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Marymount University. “In that general invitation, like an Evite or group email, state something like, ‘Sadly, we are not out of the woods yet. Everyone in our home is expected to be vaccinated.'”
“The best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.”
—Kurt Larrick, assistant director, Arlington County Department of Human Services
Be clear about your decision and avoid defending or debating your stance on vaccinations. “Issue the invitation as soon as possible, giving people time to respond or at least consider your requirement,” said Gulyn. “In other words, no last-minute battles.”
“It’s important to make sure unvaccinated friends or family don’t feel like they have a scarlet letter on their chest,” added Allyson Bohlke, LCSW, a Bethesda therapist who specializes in conflict resolution. “Show compassion. You don’t want anyone to feel judged or shunned. Remember that they have the right to make their own choices and those choices should be respected.”
Treating all guests as equals will help quell any dissonance between those who’ve been vaccinated and those who have not. “At an office party, for example, you can take everyone’s temperature before they enter the venue,” said Bohlke. “If it’s financially and logistically doable, you can give everyone a rapid test before they enter. Regardless of their vaccination status, asking those who are positive or have a temperature to leave is perfectly reasonable.”
Include both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests in a brainstorming session to determine the best way to address the safety concerns, suggests McLean family therapist Angela Lott. “This is especially true for office parties. Ask attendees to offer suggestions on addressing the issues of those who are vaccinated and are uncomfortable around those who aren’t, and vice-versa” she said. “It’s easy to get a buy-in from all guests if they feel like they have some input into the decision.”