WASHINGTON, D.C.—The busiest travel days of the year are approaching, and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) urges anyone visiting family or friends during the holiday season to take all available steps to avoid getting sick with COVID-19 or the seasonal flu.
“Many people are excited about their first chance in a long time to come together,” said Gillian Schmitz, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “But we are still in a pandemic and COVID cases can spike because of holiday gatherings, especially in households with somebody who is unvaccinated.”
COVID cases are now surging in more than 20 states, particularly in northern parts of the country where colder weather is likely to send people inside where it is easier to transmit the virus. With the expected increase in holiday travelers, emergency physicians advise gathering with health and safety top of mind. For those hosting or attending holiday celebrations:
Get your flu and COVID shot. Getting vaccinated is the strongest protection available against severe illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and recommended for everyone ages five and older. As the winter chill sets in, emergency physicians are also concerned about COVID mixing with the seasonal flu, so getting a flu shot in addition to a COVID vaccine will give everyone a better chance to stay healthy and avoid hospitalization.
Cover your face when in public. Even if you’re vaccinated, health officials recommend you wear a mask while in public, indoor spaces, especially where there are high numbers of cases in the community. That choice can also increase protection for those at high risk of severe illness, such as the unvaccinated or anyone with a weakened immune system.
Make smart travel choices. The CDC advises that those who are not fully vaccinated delay their travel plans. Holiday travelers can protect themselves and each other by following local safety guidelines, social distancing, and covering their face. Many travelers should also consider getting tested before they leave for a trip and once they return.
Prioritize safety as a host or houseguest. To reduce the risk of spreading the virus, small groups gathering outside are safer than those inside. Some hosts may feel more comfortable confirming the vaccination status of house guests before they arrive. Those who are sick or have symptoms should not host or attend a gathering.
“As people move about the country and the winter sets in, responsible steps to lower your health risks can help keep COVID and flu off your holiday guest list,” said Dr. Schmitz. “However, if there is a medical emergency you can be sure that an emergency physician will be ready to treat you 24/7, even on the holidays.”