With the holiday season upon us and approved COVID-19 vaccines available for the majority of the population, there are still many Americans who plan to take extra precautions around the holidays this year, according to a national survey from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The survey finds more than 50% of individuals polled are interested in taking extra precautions to make their holiday celebrations safe.

Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer, said after 18-plus months of pandemic precautions and apathy, he was pleasantly surprised to see so many people still wanting to be careful this holiday season. He said the numbers are positive and optimistic because hopefully, it means the nation won't see a significant post-holiday bump in COVID cases like it did last year.

Not planning to mingle

According to the survey, about 76% are still committed to asking people who have COVID symptoms not to join in a holiday celebration, a pretty large number, said Gonsenhauser.

Surprisingly, about 70% of those polled said they are expecting to only engage in holiday celebrations with their fellow household members, opting not to mingle with those outside the household.

Vaccinated guests and masks

About 50% indicated they are planning to ask guests to wear masks, as well as their vaccination status.

The survey also found that 46% would ask their unvaccinated guests to get a negative COVID test before coming over for the holidays.

Gonsenhauser said these statistics were lower when compared to last year, but higher than expected, especially since many people are suffering from pandemic fatigue at this point.

"However, people also recognize that there can be an end to this, that we can find our way out the backside of the pandemic. The more we do these things, the faster we will arrive there," Gonsenhauser said.

Also, last year at this time, there was not a significant proportion of the population who were vaccinated. Those individuals who are vaccinated and plan to have gatherings with other vaccinated family members and friends, know they don't need to implement the same precautions and the same mitigation strategies as they did a year ago, he said.

Unvaccinated could pose risk

Gonsenhauser said there is still a concern for everyone in a mixed environment of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. While vaccinated people have a lower likelihood of contracting COVID, there are still breakthrough cases, which are being seen as sourced and transmitted from unvaccinated individuals.

Gonsenhauser said the unvaccinated are at the greatest risk to both the vaccinated and themselves.

If there is a mixed gathering of both unvaccinated and vaccinated guests, Gonsenhauser said the unvaccinated need to take the same precautions as always. Those include good hand hygiene, masks, keeping a 6-foot distance, and potential ventilation adjustments.

All these precautions, according to Gonsenhauser, will protect unvaccinated party-goers  from the potential exposure that could come from anyone else, including the vaccinated, who while they are protected from infection themselves, can still potentially be a vector to transmit to other individuals.

Gonsenhauser is also encouraging everyone to get the flu vaccine this year too. Last year, there was a very low number of flu cases overall because of all the COVID protections that were in place, but this year, he said he predicts a normal flu season.

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