Before we started cooking brisket or ham for the extended family, we asked CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen what families should consider.
Wen is an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and author of the forthcoming book “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.” This is their advice.
CNN: Let’s start with the easiest scenario. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors, right??
Dr. Leana Wen: So is. Fully vaccinated means that at least two weeks have passed after the second injection of one of the two-dose vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, or two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. If everyone who wants to celebrate together is fully vaccinated, they can safely see each other, according to the CDC, even indoors, without masks, and share a meal together.
CNN: Is there a limit to the number of people who can safely attend the Seder or Easter brunch?
Wen: No, but it is very important that everyone is fully vaccinated. The higher the number, the more likely it is that not everyone has received the vaccine, or that it has not been two weeks since they received it. You should ask and confirm that everyone is vaccinated before meeting with them. If you are unsure, or feel uncomfortable that someone might not be communicative, I encourage you to decline the invitation.
CNN: What if those who come are not vaccinated because they cannot? For example, what about children?
Wen: The CDC says that if fully vaccinated people meet with households that have unvaccinated people, they should only see one home at a time. That is, let’s say the grandparents are vaccinated and have two sets of children, each of whom has unvaccinated grandchildren. They can see them one at a time, on two separate visits, but they shouldn’t see them together because the risk is with unvaccinated people who could be a risk to each other.
In this example, there are two options. One, the grandparents could see each group of homes separately and celebrate the holiday twice. In that case, as long as unvaccinated people are not at high risk for serious consequences from Covid-19, this should be a relatively low risk. And it can be done in close proximity, indoors, without masks, and by breaking bread and sharing a meal together.
Another option is for everyone to meet outdoors, with members of different households separated by at least six feet. In this scenario, it is best to exercise extreme caution. I would not recommend sharing food, drink, or utensils. Searching for afikomen during the Seder or searching for Easter eggs is fine; just eat your individually wrapped treats or treats later.
CNN: Can kids who aren’t vaccinated play together?
Wen: Outdoors, yes. If they can’t keep a 6-foot distance, they should ideally wear masks. There are many fun outdoor activities, depending on age: kicking balls, playing in jungle gyms, scavenger hunts, biking, and much more.
CNN: Would testing help? Should people be tested before meeting?
Wen: If everyone who is gathering is fully vaccinated, it is not necessary to get tested. If people spend time outdoors, remotely, testing is not necessary.
Let’s say families with unvaccinated people want to meet indoors. In theory, everyone could quarantine themselves, that is, reduce the risk as much as possible, for seven days before the meeting, get tested and, if they test negative, see themselves inside. At this point, the holidays are so close that this quarantine and test strategy is probably not practical. I would follow the advice above.
CNN: Should more caution be taken due to variants?
Wen: There are worrying variants that are circulating in many parts of the United States. The main variant rapidly spreading across the country is B.1.1.7, the UK native variant that appears to be more transmissible and may be more lethal than the original Covid-19 strain. Still, the vaccines we have seem to be effective in protecting us against it. And it still spreads in the same way, as other strains of coronavirus, so the same public health measures, masking, distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings, etc., are also effective as protection against this variant.
That being said, due to these circulating variants, we must exercise more caution. People who are not vaccinated should not gather indoors.
We are not far from the end of the pandemic. About 2 to 3 million people get vaccinated every day in the United States. Let’s celebrate the holidays safely.