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Why this Thanksgiving is Different than Last Year’s

What to expect as families gather during the holiday season

November 23, 2021

The U.S. is in a much different place than it was during Thanksgiving 2020, the nation’s public health leaders said this week.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, COVID-19 cases are rising nationally and in Pennsylvania, but there is still room for gratitude this holiday season, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Last year, many families did not gather and celebrations went without parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins,” Dr. Walensky said. “This year, I’m more optimistic. I’ve heard from many families who are now able to reunite because of the protection from COVID-19 vaccines.”

“There is certainly much to be thankful for this year,” she added.

During a press briefing, the White House COVID-19 Response Team highlighted the state of the pandemic, stressing the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine for all families planning to gather during the holiday season.

Among the key takeaways:

  • Holiday recommendations:  The White House response team recommended COVID-19 vaccination for all eligible people before holiday gatherings. Testing adds another layer of protection
  • Gathering Guide:  COVID-19 has become a “wedge issue” in some families. Specific situations—such as vulnerable family members, willingness of unvaccinated individuals to follow other prevention measures, and testing—are important to discuss ahead of any family gathering
  • Cases are rising:  The nation’s seven-day daily average of cases is about 93,000 per day, an 18 percent increase. The seven-day average for hospitalizations is up 6 percent. In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Health reported 5,186 additional positive cases on Monday and 3,174 individuals hospitalized with the virus
  • Boosters:  For all three vaccines, the protection against COVID-19 wanes after six months. A booster dose creates a peak antibody response that is even greater than the response after the second dose, officials said
  • Quotable:  “Even in our updated data, unvaccinated people are at 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than people who are vaccinated,” Dr. Walensky said. They also are six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, she said

About 135 million Americans are eligible for boosters, officials said. There are about 47 million adults and 12 million teens who have not completed their initial vaccine series. In Pennsylvania, nearly 74 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

“We certainly want families to gather, and we certainly don’t want these issues to create wedges in families,” Dr. Walensky said. “If anything, we’d like people to unite, to come together not only in protecting their own health but protecting the health of each other.”

The CDC has additional recommendations and resources related to holiday gatherings during the pandemic.

HAP will continue to monitor the latest COVID-19 public health developments and provide updates to members and the general public. A replay of the COVID-19 briefing is available online.