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Calculating COVID-19 risk for the holiday season

Researchers are making progress in understanding the human immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the vaccine to prevent the disease.
Experts say vaccines are the most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 this holiday season.

Going into the holidays, COVID-19 cases are going up in Central New York, from a higher baseline than ever before. That means people will be making a careful calculation before putting together their plans for the season.

"Unfortunately, two years into this, we're still not out of that phase, which I know is somewhat tiring, where for every event, every decision, we need to be thinking about, 'What is risk like for my family?'" said Dr. Katie Anderson, an assistant professor of medicine at SUNY Upstate.

Anderson said some things families may want to consider while calculating risk include whether any family members are immunocompromised or whether there are any children who are still unable to get vaccinated.

The 5-11 year old age group is just starting to get vaccinated, and kids age 4 and under are not eligible, yet.

"Our message has to be ‘vaccine, vaccine for all of those around them’, so as much as we can create a protective bubble around these kids, we all need to be doing that, and decreasing all risk for them as much as we can," said Anderson.

While breakthrough cases are possible, Anderson said evidence shows for fully vaccinated people, the risk of getting COVID-19 is about five or six times lower, and the risk of getting seriously ill from the virus is as much as 12 times lower.

"We're going into these holidays with much better tools than we had last holiday season,” said Anderson. “We know that these vaccines work, and many of us have been fully vaccinated and have gotten our booster doses."

While vaccines are the most effective way to decrease risk, people may also want to consider other precautions like taking rapid tests before gatherings or wearing masks.

Anderson said flexibility will be key this season, and she recommends keeping a close eye on local COVID-19 rates and altering plans accordingly.