Deciding who to include is one of the most difficult questions of the holiday season, said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, the chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this question, as every situation will be unique,” Gonsenhauser told Healthline.
Experts mention that COVID-19 now primarily affects people who have not been vaccinated, as they have 5 to 10 times higher rates of transmission than vaccinated persons. Unvaccinated people also make up more than 90 percent of all hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.
“This means that to all people, vaccinated or not, unvaccinated individuals pose the greatest risk of perpetuating the pandemic,” Gonsenhauser said. “Without suitable risk mitigations strategies like mask use and physical distancing, unvaccinated people should be included only if the host and other guests are making an informed decision about these risks.”
Bottom line: If you want to minimize risk, you may not want to invite to your celebration individuals with symptoms, who have chosen not to be vaccinated, or refuse to wear a mask.
How to talk about vaccination status
Keeping guests safe requires a conversation about vaccination status.
“It is not a rude or inconsiderate question, and it is not breaking any HIPAA law, privacy law, or infringing on the doctor/patient relationship,” said Gonsenhauser.
If this is a topic of discussion in your household or friend group, he says it’s important to lead with your “why.”
“Vaccination status has been appropriated as a political signal, but at the end of the day, it’s really about safety and risk. Lead with that,” he said. “Ground the discussion as being about your priority to keep everyone at your celebration objectively safe but also simply feeling safe.”
If you’re talking with people who don’t want to answer or who argue about data, Gonsenhauser suggests kindly reminding them that the data isn’t necessarily consequential.
Tell them that what matters is how people feel and that you are committed to everyone feeling safe first and foremost.
“It’s easy to explain why you are asking one person to volunteer this information… so that the majority of guests can feel safe in attendance,” he said.
Should children be wearing masks?
“It is a good idea for those children who have high risk factors or have not been vaccinated to wear masks,” said Gonsenhauser. “We are seeing an increase in the numbers of children severely impacted by COVID-19, and it’s important that we provide them as much protection as we can.”
For those children who have received the first dose of vaccine at least 2 weeks prior to a gathering, they can be considered as having significant but not optimal immunity, he said.
“For these partially vaccinated children, mask use is encouraged,” he said.
Safe meal serving
For celebrations where all or nearly all attendees are vaccinated, meal service and seating can be business as usual, said Gonsenhauser.
“If your celebration is inclusive of unvaccinated individuals, they should be asked to wear masks and you should be sure not to seat them in close proximity to anyone with high risk factors or potentially seat them individually and at an appropriate physical distance,” he said.
“It’s important for all to understand that when one chooses to take actions that may impact the health of those around them, they should expect that those around them will choose to protect themselves,” said Gonsenhauser.
Feeling unsupported or anxious?
There’s a chance that in some households and social circles, not everyone is going to be supportive of your efforts to host a COVID-19-conscious gathering.