BALTIMORE (November 16, 2021) – Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday and people traveling by planes, trains, and automobiles, experts from the University of Maryland Medical System are sharing advice to help Marylanders celebrate safely amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors say the most important thing individuals can do to protect against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. Vaccines are safe, effective, and free.
“The holidays are a time many families are looking forward to but, even though the vaccines are available for adults and children, there are still precautions that need to be taken to protect family members who may be more vulnerable,” said Greg Schrank, MD, MPH, Associate Hospital Epidemiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center and an Assistant Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The major difference between this year and last year’s holiday season is that we now have safe and effective vaccines. We should celebrate the holidays together and take steps to make the risk of COVID transmission as low as possible.”
“Without question, wearing a tight-fitting surgical mask is a better option than a cloth mask because it offers more protection, but for those who are particularly vulnerable, a KN95 or N95 mask offers the best barrier against the disease,” explained David Marcozzi, MD, the System’s COVID-19 Incident Commander and Senior Vice President/Chief Clinical Officer of the University of Maryland Medical Center. “The recipe for a safe Thanksgiving during COVID can be boiled down to four key ingredients: Get fully vaccinated – which includes a booster vaccine; get tested before traveling or having family over; wear a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth while engaging in activities like traveling, spending time indoors or shopping; and gather outside if possible or at least open a window for ventilation.”
Andrea Berry, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, added, “Fully vaccinated is defined as two weeks after the second dose, and the more time after either dose is better. So, for parents interested in more protection for their kids before the holidays, soon is the right time to get vaccinated.”
Dr. Marcozzi, Dr. Schrank, and Dr. Berry offer these 10 key tips for Thanksgiving travel:
Travel / Masking:
- Wear a well-fitting face mask covering your nose and mouth. Even if you are fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask in public indoor settings and while traveling via airplanes, buses, and trains. N95 and KN95 respirators provide the best fit and filtration. Otherwise, use a multi-layer mask that fits snugly around the face and covers the nose and mouth.
- Bring hand sanitizer with you, and remember to wash your hands often. COVID-19 isn’t the only virus circulating right now and other respiratory viruses are more likely to be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces.
- Even if you are vaccinated, consider getting tested before you travel, ideally within 48 hours. Testing before travel adds another layer of safety and should be strongly considered if there will be unvaccinated or vulnerable/immunocompromised people at the holiday gathering. Individuals hosting friends or family should consider asking them to get tested. Home rapid antigen tests are fast and convenient but may be hard to find; be aware that results from PCR tests can take a couple of days. If you’re traveling internationally, familiarize yourself with the vaccination and testing requirements of your destination. Also, be prepared to get tested abroad, if necessary, for your return to the U.S.
- Activate contact tracing on your cell phone and enable the setting for exposure notifications. Make sure the phone is sending contact tracing data to the Maryland Department of Health and the health authority of out of town destinations. This functionality can also be used to report positive tests, so participants whose phones have been nearby in recent days can be notified of possible exposure.
Visiting Friends/Family & Testing:
- At a Thanksgiving get-together, the more people that are fully vaccinated, the safer it will be.
- If it’s nice weather, consider gathering outside. If you’re inside, consider opening a window for ventilation. This reduces the chance of spreading the virus.
- If you feel sick or have symptoms, cancel plans to go out or have others over. Get tested if you develop symptoms or have close contact with someone who has COVID-19
- Monitor symptoms closely in the 14 days following your trip or gathering and get tested if you develop symptoms of COVID-19. If any close contacts test positive, you should get tested, even if you are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated people should consider getting tested in the first few days after their trip or large gathering, especially if it was to an area of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission.
- An individual’s immune system takes a couple of weeks to develop a full response to the vaccine, so the full protective effects are not present until 14 days after receiving a second dose of the vaccine. For those eligible, a vaccine booster will offer further protection. People who received the Janssen (J&J) vaccine should especially consider a booster dose.
- Children as young as 5 are now able to get vaccinated. Vaccines are safe and help kids generate a good immune response. While children ages 5 to 11 won’t be considered fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving, it’s a good idea to get them vaccinated now so that children are protected during the later holidays when they may be visiting family.
“Most importantly, we all need to reconnect and enjoy being together with family and friends,” Dr. Marcozzi said. “It’s an important time and people should be sure to take care of their mental health.”
For more information on COVID-19, the vaccines and the System’s response, visit https://www.umms.org/coronavirus.