It is clear that Christmas 2021 is not the same as a year ago. Between then and now, the vaccine has arrived, which in Spain has been administered in record numbers and time: almost 80% of the Spanish population has completed the vaccination regimen and nearly 75% of those over 60 have even received the third dose. The situation is not in the starting box, but the boom in the omicron variant of the coronavirus does put the population in a complicated situation: this Wednesday, the record of daily infections throughout the whole of Spain has been surpassed in Spain for the second day in a row. pandemic with 60,041 reported cases. The explosion of new infections comes just at one of the times of the year with the most gatherings and family gatherings: the Christmas parties. How many people should I meet for dinner? How much does the vaccine protect me? How should I ventilate? Is it advisable not to gather older children? Two specialists – a professor of Epidemiology and a professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health – give an answer to what can be done to try to have a Christmas as safe as possible in the face of the advance of infections. In this maelstrom of increases in cases, the President of the Government announced yesterday the return to the outdoor mask from Friday 24, Christmas Eve.
If I have had the disease, am I protected from contagion in a family gathering?
No. Having passed the COVID is not sufficient protection. “It depends on whether you have passed the infection, whether you are vaccinated and the number of doses they have given you,” explains Fernando Rodríguez Artalejo, Professor of Epidemiology at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM). Ana María García, professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Valencia, also recalls that there is not only the risk of re-infection, but also of being contagious: “It is less likely” that the person is infected or infects a third, he adds, “but not impossible.”
Is the vaccine worth as protection?
Being vaccinated protects against suffering a serious infection and the risk of being hospitalized, but it is less effective in the face of an asymptomatic or mild infection, both specialists agree. And remember, in any case, that zero risk does not exist.
Will the third dose of the vaccine work? How much does this booster dose protect in case of risk of infection in a family event?
Almost 75% of the Spanish population over 60 years of age already have that booster dose, according to official data. Ana María García recalls that it has been decided to put this third dose “because it has been shown that the relative protection decreases with the two previous doses.” So it helps prevent serious illness and death, but again, the vaccine is not sterilizing and zero risk does not exist.
Is it necessary to take any extra precautions if elderly or immunosuppressed people attend the family gathering?
This is the most important variable to take into account, considers Rodríguez Artalejo, because although these people have all three doses, they are the ones who have the highest risk of becoming infected and developing the disease. García warns that precaution is valid for that meeting and for later days: “The elderly or immunosuppressed person may not attend dinner, but some of their subsequent contacts do, so they may end up infected.” He adds that, although the risk of suffering a serious disease is higher in this group, there are also infections with serious consequences “in all age groups and in all circumstances.”
Unvaccinated children, to what extent are they a risk?
From an epidemiological point of view, the people most at risk of being infected are minors and also those between 20 and 29 years old, says Rodríguez Artalejo. “But that does not mean that they do not go to dinner: the key is to take measures that we already know: limit the number of diners to reduce the probability that one may be infected and limit the number of infected, use masks as long as you are not eating and use tests ”, explains the epidemiologist.
Do we have to do cross ventilation in the rooms where we are going to meet?
Here, the main recommendation is to do as many encounters as possible outdoors. “There is an abysmal difference in contagion, the risk indoors is very high,” says García, who recommends that if the meeting can only be held indoors, be in well-ventilated spaces, trying to maintain a safe distance and using the mask all as long as possible. Rodríguez Artalejo adds that the key is to “add layers of protection or reinforce some of those layers” if, for example, good ventilation is not possible. That is to say, use the mask as long as possible, better a short dinner or lunch than sharing many hours, better to have a test before the meeting than not to do it.
From how many people is it dangerous to gather?
More than in the group of diners, the key is in the family units or bubble groups, that is, how many different groups of cohabitants (uncles, cousins, grandparents …) get together for the meeting. “The prudent thing is that there are no more than two bubble groups or three if they are small groups,” explains Rodríguez Artalejo. García adds that, as in the rest of the measures, the fewer people, the better: “For a contagion to occur, it is enough that there are two.”
You have to get tested, yes or no? Are they reliable?
The specialist Ana María García considers that the antigen tests are not entirely reliable because “a negative with the antigen test is not a guarantee of anything and a positive is somewhat more accurate, but requires confirmation.” It warns of the “false security” that can give a negative test and insists that the measures that protect are those already known, from isolation to ventilation, to maintaining distance and wearing a mask. Given the appearance of symptoms, he adds, “I would not recommend anyone to go to these family meetings with or without tests.” Rodríguez Artalejo considers them “one more layer of protection” that helps if the rest of the measures are applied and in that sense he recommends that it be done a few hours before the meeting. In case of a shortage of tests, he adds, “the logical thing is that the people most at risk of infecting them do it: unvaccinated children, young people between 20 and 29 years old and any unvaccinated who attends.”
I have been in contact with a positive, how many days to wait to reunite with my family? what should I do?
A close contact vaccinated with an infected person, according to the protocol in force in Spain, is not obliged to quarantine —except if they are immunosuppressed or are in contact with a positive for the gamma and beta variants (very residual in Spain). Yesterday the Public Health Commission is that, although they are not obliged to keep quarantine, they limit their activity and social interaction to the strictly essential.The two specialists, in this case, recommend in any case to keep quarantine for at least 10 days.
Is it recommended that the date for lunch or dinner with relatives be outside the home?
The precautions that the two experts have been reeling off are valid both for those who eat at home and for those who go to a restaurant. Better with two or three bubble groups, an exterior is much more recommended than an interior and without losing sight of the fact that the more strange people there are in the place where you go, the more risk there is.
Can starters be shared at lunch or dinner at those family gatherings?
There is no evidence that the virus is transmitted either by food or by fomites (the small droplets of saliva that remain on surfaces). The recommendation in this case is in line with good table manners: specific cutlery for serving and washing hands before sitting down to eat.
This is how the specialists dine
Beyond the general recommendations, the two specialists consulted to prepare this information tell what their own family reunions will be like this Christmas holidays. Fernando Rodríguez Artalejo will spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family and with his 93-year-old aunt. There will be nine people and three bubble groups. All vaccinated. Your children and your nephew will have an antigen test. “Most of the time that we are not eating we will have a mask, and if we ventilate it will be a short time at some point,” explains the professor of Epidemiology. The professor of Preventive Medicine Ana María García will have dinner alone on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day she will eat with her parents, keeping distance, with masks and with ventilation.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.