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5 Tips for Safe, In-Person Holiday Gatherings

Last updated: October 21, 2021

The circumstances surrounding the upcoming holiday season are certainly different than last year. But the guidance regarding in-person gatherings is still a bit … complicated. Despite new COVID-19 cases continuing to emerge across the globe, even the CDC admits it fully expects Americans to travel and gather after being apart for the 2020 holidays. The key, they emphasize, is doing so safely.

Here are five ways you can prevent the spread of illness this holiday season while reuniting with friends and loved ones. 

1. Start with Honest, Open Communication

It is your prerogative – not to mention, your safest bet – to set boundaries for holiday gatherings. Whether you are planning to host or have been invited to attend someone else’s celebration, its ok to be selective.

“Its unfortunate that COVID-19 vaccinations have become such a divisive topic of conversation,” said Dr. Scott Hetzel, Internal Medicine Physician at ThedaCare. “But making decisions that are best for your health, and for the health of your loved ones, is never the wrong choice. It’s important to be open and honest about your comfort level.” 

Making decisions that are best for your health, and for the health of your loved ones, is never the wrong choice.

Scott Hetzel, MD, ThedaCare

Need help starting the conversation with loved ones? We suggest the following approach:

  • Have the discussion early. This provides everyone with additional time to come to a resolution that makes sense for the majority and/or allow the opportunity to get vaccinated.
  • Go first. Gently share your vaccination status and position on the matter first. This will remove some of the pressure and open the door for more natural conversation.
  • Be respectful. Try to understand and empathize with the viewpoints of others, even when they differ significantly from your own.

You may receive a negative reaction or resistance no matter how careful you are to avoid it, and that can be difficult to manage – particularly from a family member. Even if you must choose to forego an in-person gathering, virtual celebrations remain a safe option for connecting with others from a distance.

2. Get Vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccinations remain the best available method for minimizing transmission of the virus. According to health officials, having every person in attendance vaccinated against the virus is particularly important for protecting those who can’t yet receive the vaccine, such as children under 12.

“Thanks to widely available vaccinations, we have the option to safely gather in person this year,” said Dr. Hetzel. “If you are eligible for a vaccination or booster and haven’t received it yet, there is still time to do so before the holidays.”

Thanks to widely available vaccinations, we have the option to safely gather in person this year.

Scott Hetzel, MD, ThedaCare

Keep in mind, two of the three available COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, spaced weeks apart. Furthermore, you’re not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after the final dose. That said, here are your options for completing required doses before the holidays:

Thanksgiving – November 25, 2021


  • First dose: Oct 21st
  • Second dose: November 11th

Johnson & Johnson:

  • Only dose: November 11th

Christmas – December 25, 2021


  • First dose: November 20th
  • Second dose: December 11th


  • First dose: November 13th
  • Second dose: December 11th

Johnson & Johnson:

  • Only dose: December 11th

3. Consider Your Surroundings

Clearly, there is much to consider when it comes to taking a safe approach to holiday celebrations.

Trick-or-treating, for example, tends to present fewer opportunities for transmission of the COVID-19 virus because it is traditionally held outdoors.

“If your child is over 12 years old and vaccinated, they are in the best position to safely participate in Halloween festivities,” said Dr. Hetzel. “But that doesn’t mean younger kids can’t take part. For children not yet eligible for the vaccine, we recommend trick-or-treating in small groups, practicing physical distancing and hand washing as much as possible, and finding creative ways to incorporate a mask into their costume.”

We recommend trick-or-treating in small groups, practicing physical distancing and hand washing as much as possible.

Scott Hetzel, MD, ThedaCare

When it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, gatherings tend to take place indoors, increasing opportunities for transmission. In addition to considering if your guests are vaccinated, you might want to pay attention to where they’re coming from, and if the case numbers and transmission rates are particularly high in that area.

“Your gatherings may very well include people from different areas of the country where transmission rates vary,” said Dr. Hetzel. “Even if all eligible attendees are vaccinated, it is wise to continue practicing good hand hygiene, keep the area well ventilated, mask when possible and avoid over-crowding – especially in the presence of more vulnerable individuals like children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.”

4. Follow Travel Recommendations

Planning to travel? Protect yourself and others from COVID-19 by following CDC recommendations.

“The primary difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers is the need to get tested before and after your trip,” said Dr. Hetzel. “All travelers, regardless of vaccination status must wear a mask on public transportation, take other general precautions and self-monitor for symptoms.”

If possible, the CDC encourages unvaccinated people to hold off on holiday travel altogether. When an unvaccinated individual must travel – including children who aren’t eligible for the vaccine – they suggest safer travel options such as short trips by car, and flights with fewer stops or layovers.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19, are sick, test positive for COVID-19, or are waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, you should NOT travel.

5. Do What Makes Sense for Your Specific Circumstances

Generally speaking, if your gathering includes only vaccinated people, you should feel empowered to enjoy the holidays and honor celebratory traditions as you have in the past. If not, its important to continue practicing caution in the form of:

  • Wearing masks
  • Avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces
  • Gathering outdoors, when possible
  • Getting tested
  • Washing your hands often

“There are multiple layers of protection available to all of us,” said Dr. Hetzel. “Ultimately, you should use as many as possible to keep you and your loved ones safe, based on your particular situation. If we all follow that mindset, we’ll be back to traditional holiday gatherings sooner, rather than later.” 

Its not too late to get vaccinated before the holidays! Schedule your appointment today at a location near you.

Tags: Covid flu holidays safe in-person gatherings

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