With the kickoff of the holiday season right around the corner, the picture for this year’s Thanksgiving festivities is beginning to look a lot different from last year’s, when a majority of people opted not to travel or even gather as an extended family. Things are decidedly different this time around. Americans' outlook for the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. has improved, as the summer surge brought on by the delta variant has waned in many parts of the country, according to a late October update of Gallup's COVID-19 survey. The percentage of Americans who now say the U.S. COVID-19 situation is improving has more than doubled between September and October, to 51 percent.

Over the same period, worry about contracting the virus has gone down four percentage points, to 36 percent, and concern about the availability of hospital supplies, treatment and services has dropped 10 points, to 33 percent. Although the public is more optimistic about the current state of the pandemic, a majority thinks the disruption to life will continue throughout 2022 or even longer than that, the Gallup survey said. (For more on how long the pandemic might last, check out David Leonhardt’s How Does This End?)

So while people are starting to feel better about a return to normalcy, we are not out of the pandemic woods just yet. And the approaching holiday season, when people will be traveling on public transportation and gathering indoors for dinners and parties, could be a recipe for an uptick in COVID-19 cases, according to some medical experts. 

Case in point: Halloween parties at several colleges in Vermont. According to a Nov. 8 article in The New York Times, officials at a college in Colchester, Vt., are blaming Halloween parties for a COVID outbreak, which comes as the state of Vermont has reported a record number of coronavirus cases over the past week. New daily cases have increased 51 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

At Saint Michael’s College, a liberal-arts school north of Burlington, 77 students tested positive for the virus in late October and early November according to the college’s Covid-19 dashboard. In letters to the school, Lorraine Sterritt, the college president, said that Halloween parties had fueled the outbreak. “We were doing really well as a community up to the point where there were numerous Halloween parties where students were unmasked and in close contact,” she said in the letter according to the Times' report. 

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
While this does not bode well for Thanksgiving, there are steps people can take in order to safely celebrate the holiday. In a recent CBS Mornings interview with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Gayle King asked should unvaccinated people be fraternizing over holiday dinner with vaccinated people. He said, “Well, look, I think if you're gathering indoors with vaccinated and unvaccinated people together, that is certainly a higher risk situation. Especially if you're a parent like me, and you've got unvaccinated kids at home because they're not eligible yet, then you want to be especially cautious. 

“So the other thing though to remember is there are steps we can take to reduce risk further. Wearing masks indoors helps and using testing strategically can also help to reduce the risk of people coming to a gathering infected.  

To learn more about misinformation about vaccines, booster shots and vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11, and the long-term outlook for the pandemic, click on the video below to watch the entire interview with Dr. Murthy. 

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Another trusted medical expert, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked about how he plans to keep his family safe from COVID-19 during this holiday season. He emphasized how important it is to plan ahead by figuring out precautions now and communicating those precautions to people who plan to visit during the holidays. Here are some highlights of what he had to say.

Vaccination. The more vaccinated people there are the better, While nothing is perfect, the vaccines are really really good. They're effective. Remember, vaccinated people are eight times less likely to get infected and 11 times less likely to die, according to the CDC.

Testing. It's still one of the best tools that we have. Let’s say you're vaccinated, but still want to make sure you're not potentially carrying the virus, which can happen. What you can do is take a rapid antigen test that can tell you fairly accurately the answer to the question you're really asking, ‘Are you contagious?’ It's probably important to plan ahead and order them online so you have them in time for the holidays.

Ventilation. It's an important thing to think about at these gatherings. We know that this virus spreads through the air so the more that you can get the air moving, the better. The way to think about it is think of the virus kind of like smoke. If there is smoke outdoors, you're going to be less likely to breathe it in. But indoors, if you have that same smoke, it's going to increase the chances of those particles getting breathed them. Even cracking a window can help. Masks are also still essential in staying safe. Remember, there's still a lot of virus out there.

Click on the video below to watch the full segment. 

CDC Recommends Safer Ways to Celebrate the Holidays

Holiday traditions are important for families and children. There are several ways to enjoy holiday traditions and protect your health. Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible. Here are some tips for safer ways to celebrate the holidays, from the CDC:


  • Protect those not yet eligible for vaccination such as young children by getting yourself and other eligible people around them vaccinated.
  • Wear well-fitting masks over your nose and mouth if you are in public indoor settings if you are not fully vaccinated. 
    • Even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial to high transmission. 
      • Outdoors is safer than indoors.
    • Avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces.
    • If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend a gathering.
    • Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have a close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
If you are considering traveling for a holiday or event, visit CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family. CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

Special Considerations:

  • People who have a condition or are taking medications that weaken their immune system may not be fully protected even if they are fully vaccinated and have received an additional dose. They should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people, including wearing a well-fitted mask, until advised otherwise by their health care provider.
  • You might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission if a member of your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated.
  • If you are gathering with a group of people from multiple households and potentially from different parts of the country, you could consider additional precautions (e.g., avoiding crowded indoor spaces before travel, taking a test) in advance of gathering to further reduce risk.
  • Do NOT put a mask on children younger than 2 years old.
By working together, we can enjoy safer holidays, travel, and protect our own health as well as the health of our family and friends.