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Are planning to visit your family for the holidays? Here’s a score sheet to check possible COVID risk

A recent poll found half of vaccinated Americans might not spend the holidays with unvaccinated family or friends.

FORT WORTH, Texas — There’s no single answer to whether it’s safe to gather for the holidays. That doesn’t mean some gatherings are smarter and safer than others.

A recent poll found half of vaccinated Americans might not spend the holidays with unvaccinated family or friends.

“I think it’s wrong to ignore the risk because it’s still real,” Dr. James McDeavitt, the dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston said. “But by the same token, it’s wrong to pretend that we’re in 2020.”

McDeavitt created a score sheet to help families figure out how safe their gathering is. It grades risk based on vaccination status of people going, COVID spread where you’re coming from or meeting and your risk tolerance. He recommends family fill it out and then discuss before the holidays arrive.

“Let’s not have it on Thanksgiving morning when everyone shows up at the doorstep, and then you’re having an argument of who’s vaccinated and who’s not and should we be doing this or not,” he said.

Last Thanksgiving, COVID vaccines hadn’t been approved. This year, nearly 69% of all Americans regardless of age and 63% of Texans have received at least one dose. A Texas epidemiologist helped put together a guide on the myths family members may bring up about the vaccine. 

Tuesday, New York City announced fully vaccinated people can gather for New Year’s Eve after having empty streets last year.

“The most important thing you can do is get the free and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” said McDeavitt.

Nearly half the U.S. is seeing an uptick in COVID cases and North Texas hospitalizations went up Tuesday for the first since mid-September.

“What we hope is that people across Texas will understand the threat of COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Shuford, the chief epidemiologist of Texas’ Department of State Health Services said. “Now everybody is ready for a vacation, but COVID-19 isn't finished with us yet.”

McDeavitt said the holidays and winter could lead to an increase in cases with an estimated 20-25% of Texans without any immunity from vaccines or a previous case of the virus.

“We will continue to see COVID-19 circulate and even potentially surges in that disease activity until we can get more people, hopefully vaccinated,” she said.

Beyond vaccines, McDeavitt said at-home tests are useful if someone feels sick. Families can also open windows for ventilation and use fans to blow air out as well as eat at multiple tables. He said unvaccinated family members should wear masks and try to stay distanced from those at risk.

“It would be silly for me to wear a helmet to drive to the grocery store, but it would be foolhardy for my friend to not wear a seatbelt driving around on the racetrack,” said McDeavitt. 

Call it being cautious or smart. Remember what all the lessons from the past two years to protect the ones we care about most.

“We all time to celebrate and we all need to see family,” McDeavitt said. “So, if we can get do that safely, then by all means let’s do so.”