There's vaccines, masks and social distancing, but what precautions are necessary when attending or hosting family gatherings?
If you are among the 58.5% of eligible Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, it's important to remember that not everyone at the family function may not be vaccinated –– children under 5 are still ineligible for the shot –– plus there's still a risk of a breakthrough infection, though experts say the shot is still the best protection against Covid-19.
"Think about your vaccine as a very good raincoat," CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Lena Wen said. "If you are going out into a drizzle, you're probably going to be well protected not get wet."
"But if you're going into a thunderstorm, there's a higher chance of you getting wet, despite that very good raincoat."
So should you go to the family gathering or not?
Wen said you should consider the medical risk you and your loved ones face, the first being the infection rates of their communities, if you're traveling to them, and if they've been avoiding crowds and wearing masks.
Next, Wen said to consider how vulnerable you are "and the people in your immediate household."
"If you are fully vaccinated and you've got your booster and you're generally healthy, the chance of you having a breakthrough infection that lands you in the hospital is relatively low."
Outdoor gatherings is still the safest, experts say, though it may not be feasible for many regions facing cooler temperatures. In those cases, everyone planning to attend the gathering should do what they can to reduce their risk of infection at least three days in advance –– limiting going out to public places, masking when they do. Wen also recommends everyone get a rapid test the morning of the holiday, if possible.
Hosting vs. Being the Guest
If you're hosting the holiday gathering this year, experts say you can set the tone of event –– setting boundaries around mask-wearing, how many people will be inside, having outdoor options, etc.
If you're a guest, you might have to take into consideration the host's stance on vaccines and Covid-19 more generally.
"What is the host doing? What boundaries are they setting? Why are you going to Uncle Bob's house where nobody believes in vaccines? They don't even think it exists," psychologist Roseann Capanna-Hodge told CNN. "That's not really a great choice."
"Do you feel confident enough for you to be there with your mask on?" Capanna-Hodge added. "If you think this is going to be a volatile conversation, you don't have to choose to go."
The biggest things to remember according to the psychologist?
Trust your gut. And know that you don't have to go.
"I think people feel they do, so they override their common sense that they know this is not going to be a good situation, and they still hope for the best –– but there are no boundaries," she said.
Boundary Setting 101
Getting together with family can mean a lot of noisy questions, unprovoked comments, and, depending on your relatives, less than normal personal space.
Boundaries can seem harsh or rude, but they are actually useful for creating safe space for everyone.
Whether you're hosting or attending, boundary setting won't necessarily set the rules for how things will actually go, but it can help you set standards for feeling safe.
So how do you do it?
Let's say a family member says dinner will be outside, and you get there and everything is set up indoors. Capanna-Hodge recommends "leading with care" while sticking to your boundary:
"We love spending time with you, and I also recognize that you want connection so much, and it's not as important for you to wear a mask or follow procedures, but for us it is. Love you, want to see you, how about coming over to our house (another time)?"
Validating their feelings while explaining where you're coming from can go a long way in avoiding tension during the holiday season.
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