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'Are you vaccinated?' Thanksgiving tips for hosting unvaccinated guests

While many of us feel safer than we have in many months, there are lingering concerns of gathering with family and friends who are in the 20 percent of eligible Americans choosing not to get vaccinated.
Image: Traditional Holiday Stuffed Turkey Dinner
About 20 percent of eligible Americans have chosen not to get vaccinated.GMVozd / Getty Images

There’s an added level of excitement for Thanksgiving gatherings this year now that the majority of Americans are vaccinated against Covid-19.

While many of us feel safer and more secure than we have in many months, there are lingering concerns of gathering with family and friends who are in the 20 percent of eligible Americans choosing not to get vaccinated.

For example, can you ask your guests if they have been vaccinated? And how do you proceed if the answer is no? Do you need to inform everyone else?

There are a number of ways to keep you (and your family) at lower risk for a safer and happy holiday.

If you’re hosting and want to be ultra-cautious, avoid inviting friends or family who are not vaccinated. Or, if you’ve been invited—ask if there are unvaccinated people coming, as well as how many total guests. This is especially important if children under 5 (who are not yet eligible for a vaccine) or others with compromised immune systems are attending. You don’t need to assume that risk—as a host or a guest —and you should feel confident expressing your wishes.

But it can get tricky if you do want to be part of a Thanksgiving where unvaccinated friends or family are attending. Here are some practical tips that can help, whether you’re hosting your own, or attending elsewhere:

Take it outside.

Weather permitting, stay outside. When you can, use heaters or a fire pit for extra warmth. And think casual dressing in layers.

Take a test.

While timing is always tricky, ask guests to do a rapid test on their own on Thanksgiving Day, before they arrive. Rapid tests are readily available at most pharmacies, in a two-pack (you only need one for the day-of event). Or ask that PCR test results be within 24-48 hours before arriving. Confirm with your guests how they’ll be tested—and you can also pick up some rapid tests for those who need them. A positive test means they cannot attend.

Maximize protection indoors.

Keep the windows open, for fresh air and good cross-ventilation. And, if you are able to, consider buying an air purifier with a HEPA filter. HEPA stands for “high efficiency particulate air—and can filter out the Covid-19 virus. Make sure you know the size of your room and buy the right size unit for effective coverage.

Limit your guest list.

If you’re hosting, aim for around 10 guests when there are unvaccinated people attending (including children under 5).

Plan ahead.

Ask all questions ahead of time. It’s important to ask your host about unvaccinated people attending. Your host is free to invite anyone, but it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you. Don’t feel badly about changing your plans if you’re not comfortable.

Avoid vaccine conversations.

Thanksgiving is not the time to debate or try to convince an unvaccinated guest to go for their shots—no matter how well you know them. There can be multiple reasons a person chooses not to be vaccinated for Covid-19. And if the topic comes up, consider steering it elsewhere.

Avoid “mask-intimidation.”

Many people carry a mask at all times—just in case —but feel awkward or uncomfortable wearing them when those around them are not. Listen to your inner voice, and wear one if you’re feeling uncomfortable.

For those at higher risk—for example, if you’re elderly or have a weak immune system, have masks handy for greater protection. And make sure unvaccinated people are sitting as far away from higher risk people as possible (at least six feet).

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is NBC News’ health editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.