The COVID-19 pandemic won’t take a break for the holidays.
The country's worst spike in cases followed the Christmas season last year, peaking at more than 250,000 per day on Jan. 11, according to CNBC. Reported deaths also reached a peak in early 2021 of roughly 3,400 per day.
With this in mind, on Wednesday, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi shared a number of steps New Yorkers can take to be safer and reduce the risk of infection over the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah holidays -- a time when millions of holiday travelers are expected to hit the roads, rails and skies, many leaving town for the first time in two years thanks in part to the COVID-19 vaccines.
"On Thanksgiving Eve I am feeling grateful for so much: the chance to reconnect with loved ones and the opportunity to do it more safely and healthily compared to this time last year," Chokshi said.
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"We’ve made progress against COVID-19 with over 76% of all New Yorkers having received at least one vaccine dose. This is great progress and it’s because so many New Yorkers have stepped up to do the right thing. Let’s keep that up over the holidays."
Here is what Chokshi recommends:
Every activity is safer if you are fully vaccinated
"Every activity is safer if you are fully vaccinated," Chokshi said, adding that "people can feel comfortable coming together in small gatherings when everyone is vaccinated."
Testing plays a big role and is an 'added layer of safety'
Despite the widely accessible vaccines and their newly approved booster doses, worries of a winter spike in cases has health officials sounding early alarms for Americans. Virus testing continues to be a key asset in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19. Airports in the tri-state area, among other major transit hubs, have free rapid testing available to travelers.
According to Chokshi, testing before and after gatherings or travel adds one more layer of safety.
With testing widely available across New York City, about 70% of test results across the city come back within a day, with rapid testing locations as another option, the health commissioner said.
Additionally, "testing and other precautions become more important if you are with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated friends or family," he said.
Those interested can visit www.nyc.gov/covidtest for more information.
Plan around the most vulnerable member of your group
"My practical tip is to plan around the most vulnerable member of your group, whether it’s a senior or someone with a weakened immune system," Chokshi shared. "Gathering virtually or using masks and distancing can help protect them. My own family is planning to hold one of our get-togethers outdoors this weekend because we will have family members spanning three generations, including some kids who are unvaccinated because they are under 5."
'Every day is a good day to get vaccinated'
"I’ve been asked if vaccination helps during an occasion just a few days away. My answer is: 'every day is a good day to get vaccinated,'" Chokshi said, adding that that he also recommends everyone 18 years and older get a booster when it is time for one.
The health commissioner went on to say vaccines start to build one's immunity, although it is gradual.
To find a vaccination site near you, visit www.nyc.gov/vaccinefinder.
Stay home if you are feeling ill
Chokshi recommends not to gather or travel -- even if you made plans -- if you feel sick.
"If you are feeling OK and do plan to travel, keep your face covering on and wash your hands frequently," he said.
Traveling? Make sure you know your destination's COVID-19 transmission
If you are traveling, make sure you know what covid transmission looks like at your destination and plan accordingly, the health commissioner advices.