How to safely celebrate Passover and Easter this year: Dr Wen's advice

Passover begins this Saturday, and Easter will soon be upon us. As more people are getting vaccinated, people are wondering what activities are safe. Is it O...

Posted: Mar 28, 2021 10:03 AM

Passover begins this Saturday, and Easter will soon be upon us. As more people are getting vaccinated, people are wondering what activities are safe. Is it OK for fully vaccinated people to get together for a Seder or Easter brunch? What about families gathering when some are vaccinated but others aren't yet?

Before we start cooking brisket or ham for the extended family, we asked CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen what families should consider.

Wen is an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and the author of the forthcoming book, "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health." Here's her advice.

CNN: Let's start with the easiest scenario. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors together, right?

Dr. Leana Wen: That's right. Fully vaccinated means that it's at least two weeks after the second shot of one of the two-dose vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If everyone who wants to celebrate together is fully vaccinated, they can see one another safely, according to the CDC -- including indoors, without masks -- and share a meal together.

CNN: Is there a limit to the number of people who can attend Seder or Easter brunch safely?

Wen: No, but it's really important that everyone there is fully vaccinated. The larger the number, the more chance you may run into the possibility that not everyone has received the vaccine -- or that it hasn't been two weeks since they got it. You should ask and confirm that everyone is vaccinated prior to getting together with them. If you're unsure, or feel uncomfortable that perhaps someone isn't being forthcoming, I would encourage you to decline the invitation.

CNN: What if those coming are not vaccinated because they can't be. For example, what about children?

Wen: The CDC says that if fully vaccinated people are getting together with households that have unvaccinated people, they should only see one household at a time. That is, let's say that grandparents are vaccinated, and they have two sets of children that each have unvaccinated grandchildren. They can see them one at a time, in two separate visits, but shouldn't see them together because the risk is with unvaccinated individuals who could be a risk to one another.

In this example, there are two options. One, the grandparents could see each set of households separately and celebrate the holiday, twice. In that case, as long as the unvaccinated people are not at high risk for severe consequences from Covid-19, this should be relatively low risk. And it can be done with close proximity, indoors, without masks, and breaking bread and sharing a meal together.

Another option is that everyone gathers outdoors, with members of different households separated at least six feet apart. In this scenario, it's still best to use an abundance of caution. I would not recommend sharing food, drink or utensils. Searching for the afikomen during the Seder or hunting for Easter eggs is fine -- just eat your individually wrapped prizes or treats later.

CNN: Can kids who are unvaccinated play together?

Wen: Outdoors, yes. If they can't maintain 6-foot distancing, they should ideally wear masks. There are lots of fun outdoor activities, depending on the age -- kicking balls, playing on jungle gyms, doing scavenger hunts, riding bikes and much more.

CNN: Would testing help? Should people get tested before getting together?

Wen: If everyone that's getting together is fully vaccinated, there's no need to be tested. If people are spending time outdoors, with distancing, testing is not needed.

Let's say families with unvaccinated people want to get together indoors. In theory, they could all quarantine -- meaning to reduce risk as much as possible -- for seven days prior to the gathering, get tested and if negative, see one another indoors. At this point, the holidays are so close that this quarantine and test strategy probably is not practical. I'd stick to the advice above.

CNN: Should there be more caution taken because of variants?

Wen: There are variants of concern that are circulating in many parts of the United States. The main variant that's spreading quickly across the country is B.1.1.7, the variant originating from the United Kingdom that appears to be more transmissible and may be more lethal than the original Covid-19 strain. Still, the vaccines we have seem to be effective in protecting against it. And it's still spread the same way, like other strains of coronavirus, so the same public health measures -- of masking, distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings and so forth -- still are effective as protection against this variant, too.

That said, because of these circulating variants, we should use extra caution. People who are unvaccinated should not gather with one another indoors.

We are not far from the end of the pandemic. About 2 to 3 million people are getting vaccinated daily in the United States. Let's celebrate the holidays safely.

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