How to Survive Holiday Gatherings in 2021

We are free to celebrate seasonal holidays with friends and families this year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – as long we get vaccinated and practice safety measures like indoor mask-wearing, handwashing and social distance when appropriate.

This freedom to gather brings smiles to many but apprehension to others who secretly enjoyed the 2020 lockdown break from awkward and occasionally volatile conversations with family members while passing the turkey and dressing.

“Many of us have definitely lost some of our in-person social skills after 20 months of limited interactions, especially for families who stayed away from one another because of elderly family members at risk for contracting COVID-19,” said Fareed Tabatabai, MD, with Memorial Medical Group. “Thanks to vaccinations, this Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect. Everyone should stay focused on the positives of reuniting with loved ones and avoid wading into divisive issues that create tension.”

But what if Uncle Frank really wants to discuss the last presidential election or cousin Wanda is stirring up talk about the reliability of vaccines? Tabatabai recommends having a plan.

“Be intentional about setting boundaries ahead of time and be prepared to step in to redirect conversation when necessary,” Tabatabai said. “Have conversation starters planned like ‘favorite trip’ or ‘best Thanksgiving memory.’ Consider a puzzle or game table. Draw in younger family members to share about their return to school or college.”

And if all else fails, bring out the dessert early and turn up the volume on the football game.

Additional Precautions

The CDC recommends the following special considerations:

  • People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system may not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated and have received an additional dose. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask, until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.
  • 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.
  • 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 (e.g., avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel, taking a test) in advance of gathering to further reduce risk.
  • Do NOT put a mask on children younger than 2 years old.

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