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More Americans are planning holiday parties without masks this year as Covid vaccine rates climb


Travelers pass through O’Hare International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Chicago, Illinois, November 25, 2020.

Kamil Krzaczynski | Reuters

Fewer Americans this year plan on taking precautions against Covid-19 when hosting or attending holiday gatherings compared with last year, signaling some return to normalcy now that 59% of the country is vaccinated against the virus.

Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center polled 2,042 adults nationwide from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, finding that 51% would ask partygoers to wear masks, down from 67%, the survey published Monday shows. Half of those surveyed would ask for the vaccination status of their friends and family.

But anti-vaccine and anti-mask sentiment isn’t necessarily to blame, said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, a collaborator on the survey and chief quality and patent safety officer at the Wexner Medical Center. Vaccinated Americans are also starting to feel more comfortable seeing each other without masks, and groups of fully immunized individuals can enjoy the holidays together “with basically no precautions in place,” he added.

“I was pretty surprised to see that 51% were still considering asking attendees to wear masks,” Gonsenhauser said. “I think that what we’ve seen happen is a change in the understanding and approach to risk mitigation, particularly with a significant proportion of vaccinated individuals.”

Some 50% of respondents said they wouldn’t ask whether their attendees had been vaccinated, while 54% of those surveyed said they wouldn’t require unvaccinated guests show proof of a negative Covid test. Challenges with getting a test have made the public less likely to require a negative result from their attendees, Gonsenhauser said.

U.S. health leaders are urging Americans to get their vaccines and booster shots before the holidays after Covid cases reached an all-time high of more than 250,000 per day in the weeks following last Christmas. Gonsenhauser warned that a more severe wave of cases could flare up after the holidays again, fueled by the country’s roughly 60 million unvaccinated individuals.

To mitigate against another outbreak, Gonsenhauser recommended limiting celebrations exclusively to the vaccinated. When that’s not possible, Gonsenhauser said hosts should require that guests disclose their vaccination status and make their unvaccinated guests wear masks.

Researchers still found that 76% of participants would ask that attendees with Covid symptoms avoid their gatherings, while 72% planned to celebrate exclusively with members of their own household. Those figures decreased from 82% and 79%, respectively, in 2020.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, the U.S. is starting to see another uptick in infections after almost three weeks of relatively level cases. The nationwide seven-day average of cases reached about 83,500 on Monday, up 14% from the week before, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Vaccines are the “first step” in protecting against Covid this holiday season and remain an effective shield against hospitalization and death, Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in an email to CNBC. He called on families to protect their vulnerable relatives by getting vaccinated, adding that those showing signs of sickness should get tested for Covid before gathering for Thanksgiving.

“My advice to the unvaccinated is to get vaccinated right away, since even partial immunity at Thanksgiving dinner is better than no immunity,” Casadevall wrote. “Every family needs to do a risk assessment.”

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