The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released its official public health guidance for the 2021 holiday season, offering up mostly general advice on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The recommendations urge people to get vaccinated ahead of the holidays if they haven’t done so already. For young children who aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine, the CDC suggests reducing risk of exposure by making sure the people around them are vaccinated.
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The CDC also recommends that people continue to wear masks indoors in public spaces.
“We fully expect that families and friends will gather for the holidays this year and we have updated our guidance on how to best to stay safe over the holidays,” the agency wrote in a statement. “The best way to minimize COVID risk and ensure that people can safely gather is to get vaccinated or get the booster if you’re eligible.”
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The holiday guidance is notably less prescriptive than last year, when vaccines were not available to the general public.
In 2020, for example, the CDC warned against traditional trick-or-treating by knocking on doors and instead suggested individually wrapped goodie bags that families could “grab and go” from a distance.
This year, the CDC doesn’t provide holiday-specific advice. However, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has said she thinks trick-or-treating can be done safely if kids stay outdoors and stick to small groups.
“If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely,” Walensky told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
When it comes to big family gatherings, the CDC suggests “additional precautions” such as testing in advance or avoiding crowded indoor spaces before making the trip.
The 2021 guidance follows some confusion earlier this month when the CDC provided a technical update to its website that appeared to be its new recommendations for the season. The agency later removed the page, which was outdated.
Holidays have been a major driver of the pandemic, with hospitalizations and deaths spiking to its highest levels following the 2020 holiday season. Last January, the death toll peaked at around 3,600 people per day.
Those numbers plummeted following the rollout of vaccinations, only to surge again this summer with the arrival of the delta variant sickening unvaccinated populations.
According to CDC data collected from hospitals and state health officials last August, an unvaccinated person was 11 times more likely to die from COVID than a vaccinated person.
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Health officials are again warning caution ahead of this holiday season so cases don’t spike again, although vaccines have made gatherings considerably safer.
One bright spot for families of children who remain ineligible for the vaccine: Federal regulators are expected to greenlight shots for kids as young as 5 in early November.
The dose of the Pfizer pediatric shot is a third smaller than the dose given to adults, but would still require two shots three weeks apart. And like adults, a child would not be considered immunized until two weeks after their second shot.
A vaccine for infants and children under age 5 isn’t expected until early 2022.