Holiday safety tips from WashU Med infectious diseases specialist


COVID-19 activity is still high and is rising in the region and much of the country.

Vaccination reduces the risk of catching COVID and dramatically reduces the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID. Vaccinated individuals with compromised immune systems and some who are over age 65 or have serious underlying medical conditions are still at some risk for significant illness from COVID.

Vaccines are now available for children age 5-11. It takes five weeks to achieve full immunity, so there is an opportunity to start the vaccine series now to fully protect children and their contacts for the December holidays. Those who are recently vaccinated will not yet be fully immunized by Thanksgiving.

Never attend gatherings or travel while ill.

Masking while indoors with people who don’t live with you will further reduce risk and is recommended when covid transmission in the community is elevated.

Viral tests performed prior to gathering with others may provide some additional value in reducing the risk of COVID transmission. Anyone with symptoms should either not participate or test prior to any group activity.

Layers of protection

For maximum protection, the best strategy is to use multiple layers of protection. The more layers of protection there are, the safer the event. When circulating levels of COVID are at moderate levels (more than 50 cases per 100,000), you need more layers to create a safer environment. As cases drop, you can reduce the layers and still have a safe environment. Note that currently the St. Louis region has over 100 cases per 100,000 of COVID and cases are rising. We have placed them in order of importance as evidence currently suggests, with No. 1 providing the most protection.

  1. Vaccination is the cornerstone
  2. Indoor masking is very important particularly when transmission is high
  3. Create safer eating situations
  4. Have events outdoors when possible, or in a space with good ventilation
  5. Avoid crowding (i.e. at a buffet line or bar)
  6. Test prior to gathering

Use more protection layers in higher risk situations either for individuals or in the community.

  • Unvaccinated guests
  • Vaccinated but higher-risk guests (immunocompromised, age > 65) 
  • High transmission in the community

Travel tips

No current restrictions on travel. Use additional mitigation measures if going to very high levels of transmission or visitors are coming in from such areas.  

Ensure all travelers who are eligible are vaccinated.

If using public transportation, mask at all times (per CDC/TSA rules).  

Avoid crowded areas in transportation facilities when possible.

Do not travel if you are sick with symptoms that could be due to COVID or flu.

Don’t travel, host events, or visit friends/relatives if sick; you don’t want to be the one to put your unvaccinated uncle in the hospital.

Testing immediately prior to traveling/visiting can add a little extra assurance, particularly if you or the people you are visiting are unvaccinated

Check the COVID transmission rate in the areas you are traveling. If in the “substantial” or “high” category, be sure to always mask while indoors in public settings.

Masking tips

Follow local jurisdictional rules and guidance.

Encourage masking indoors when not eating.

Masking is even more important when unvaccinated or other individuals at high risk for severe COVID are present (e.g., over 65, immunocompromised, chronically ill).

Creating a safer space for eating

Eat outdoors.

If indoors, use a well-ventilated space.

Use a large enough space where people can spread out.

Arrange seating in clusters of household pods with at least six-10 feet between pods.