Mother and baby in Santa hats on a video call

It’s another year of COVID and the holidays, but unlike last year, we are better prepared. We now have better ways to stay safe, including vaccines and boosters, so that you can see friends and family while being careful during the holiday season. 

COVID Safety During the Holidays

Getting vaccinated can bring peace of mind that will make your holidays more relaxed and enjoyable. If you haven’t received a first or second COVID-19 vaccination, now is the time. Vaccines and booster shots are free.

Wilbur Chen, MD, MS, an adult infectious disease expert at University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD), stresses that getting the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters “remains the best way to protect yourself against the virus and its variants.” 

If you have been vaccinated and qualify for a booster shot, you can schedule that now. The Maryland State Department of Health makes it easy to find a vaccine location that gives initial vaccines and booster shots. 

Even with vaccines and boosters available, masking is still an important way to keep safe this holiday season. If you are gathering indoors with children under 5, or others who are not vaccinated, or are in an area where there is a high number of COVID cases, consider wearing a mask even if you are fully vaccinated. “Vaccines do not work alone. Everyone should continue to wear a well-fitting mask when in public spaces with other persons nearby,” Dr. Chen says.

Traveling Choices

Since vaccines and boosters have opened up travel for us this year, the holidays are a little more promising. But we still need to be careful when traveling and spending time with others. 

Remember, you shouldn't travel if you're feeling sick, exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, had a positive coronavirus test or were exposed to someone with the virus. This is especially important if you or someone you love are at high risk of severe symptoms from the virus. Dr. Chen suggests rapid self-tests for COVID-19, with vaccinating, masking and social distancing to help keep everyone safe. 

If you do travel, you will want to keep an eye on where you go and what the travel restrictions may be in that city, state or country. The CDC provides detailed information on domestic and international travel. Make sure you check this information while traveling, since restrictions may change quickly. 

Some people hosting holiday events are asking people to be vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test before they attend. Because a negative COVID-19 test may now be required for many events and for international flights, plan ahead. Purchase rapid tests in advance and don’t wait to schedule at a testing center before and after traveling.

Also, if you are traveling, be sure you know and follow the local masking requirements of your destination. 

COVID-Safe Holiday Ideas

Deck the Halls

No matter which winter holidays you celebrate, make an event of decorating your home both inside and out and, if you can, go a step further this year. You can even take a walk with your family around the neighborhood to take in all of the holiday cheer at a safe distance. 

Enjoy a Drive-Through Light Display

Every year, some neighborhoods and parks across Maryland put on stellar light shows for the holidays. Because these displays often take place outdoors, this can be a safe way to get into the holiday spirit. The ideal scenario is to enjoy the show from the safety and comfort of your car, where you can maintain distance from others. 

Participate in Outdoor Activities

Spending time outside is still the best bet during COVID. There are many outdoor activities that you can enjoy this holiday season. This is a great way to get some extra vitamin D and fit in some physical activity, both of which can help you manage stress during this difficult time. It can also help you fight pandemic fatigue.  

Host a Virtual Holiday Meal

Not everyone is going to be able to travel this year, but you can still “see” them. Our virtual skills are so good now that hosting a virtual holiday meal is like second nature. Set up a laptop at the table and dig in while enjoying great conversation with your loved ones!

You can also host video calls before or after your meal so that you can have more intimate conversations with people you love. Be sure to think about inviting someone who might be alone for the holiday to your virtual gathering.

Celebrating New Year's 

2021 may be coming to an end, but coronavirus is still a threat. With all of the medical protection we have against COVID, we still need to be careful. Throughout the year, we’ve all seen the photos of large group gatherings and read the general outcomes – COVID spreads quickly, especially now.

If you need to, adjust your New Year's plans. Avoiding house parties and other gatherings is still the safest option. However, if you choose to spend time with a few people, remember your mask and social distancing to have a safe start to the New Year. 

Updated 12/21/2021

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