UPMC Provides Guidance for Safe and Healthy Holiday Gatherings

By: Keyshawn Shaahid

With the holidays around the corner, Dr. Donald M. Yealy, the UPMC chief medical officer, and Dr. John Goldman, infectious disease specialist and vice president of medical affairs at UPMC Harrisburg, offer advice to help keep everyone safe during the holidays.

Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to lower your risk of severe COVID-19 infection. If you have already been vaccinated, it is important to receive a booster dose as it will provide additional protection.

At UPMC, 75% of COVID-19 inpatients are unvaccinated. Unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 are seven to 10 times more likely to end up in the ICU than vaccinated people. The 25% of COVID-19-positive patients who are vaccinated, but required hospitalization at UPMC, are immunocompromised or elderly. People with full vaccination – including a booster –are safer from COVID-19 death and serious illness.

“No one wants to cancel their holiday plans. We suggest that anyone who comes to your gathering be vaccinated,” said Dr. Goldman. “If you have older parents, grandparents or family members with compromised immune systems, it’s important that everyone who attends is boosted as well. If your guests are not vaccinated, I suggest asking them to take rapid at-home tests on the day of the gathering. If it is multiple days, take multiple tests. The tests can tell you that at that moment you are not infected, but you can easily become infected moments after taking the test.”

Wear a mask.

Masking is an essential tool for keeping people safe. When worn properly, face masks completely cover the nose and mouth. It is especially important to mask at gatherings where there are vulnerable or unvaccinated people, such as the elderly, immunocompromised, or children who are too young to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Create an open and respectful conversation with your loved ones about personal safety boundaries.

Before gathering, discuss ways to make everyone attending feel safe.

“Consider your potential guests’ vaccination status. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to pass COVID-19 to others,” said Dr. Yealy.

Determine whether it will be possible to have distance between people at the gathering and consider the level of personal risk before deciding whether to attend. Immunocompromised or vulnerable guests may have different comfort levels than younger, healthier guests.

Trim down your guest list.

Try to avoid creating crowded and poorly ventilated spaces through large gatherings. A smaller gathering may mean a lower risk of spreading COVID-19.

Following simple safety measures can make the difference between a happy holiday season or a family-wide COVID outbreak. By masking, social distancing as much as possible, washing our hands and getting vaccinated and/or boosted, the risks of holiday gatherings become significantly lower.

To learn more about COVID-19 treatments through UPMC, visit UPMC.com/Coronavirus. To schedule a vaccine or booster through UPMC, visit Vaccine.UPMC.com.