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COVID-19 and the holidays: Tips for rapid tests, travel, gatherings and more

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated guidelines if you're gathering or traveling, including COVID-19 vaccine requirements, when to wear a mask and what to know about getting tested. Credit: Bloomberg / Angus Mordant

The second holiday season of the pandemic is approaching, with more get-togethers and celebrations on the way.

This season looks different from last year — more than 70% of Long Islanders are now fully vaccinated. But in addition to getting vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are requirements and precautions you should take to stay safe.

We’ve compiled the latest official guidance for what you need to know ahead of traveling and gathering this season, in addition to updates on COVID-19 at-home rapid testing and booster shots. We’ll keep this guide updated as the holiday season continues.

If you’re gathering

The CDC updated its guidance for celebrating holidays safely this year. In addition to getting vaccinated, the agency also recommends:

  • Wear a mask in public places indoors if you’re not fully vaccinated or if you’re in an area with higher virus transmission rates.
  • Outdoor gatherings are safer options than those indoors.
  • Stay away from crowded areas with poor ventilation.
  • Don’t gather if you’re sick.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been around someone who tested positive.
  • You might consider other precautions like getting tested before gathering with people from multiple households or with those from varying parts of the country.

If you’re traveling

The CDC recommends putting any travel on hold until you’re fully vaccinated. Wearing a mask on public transportation is still required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.

The agency also recommends for travel within the United States:

  • Follow local recommendations and rules for masks and distancing.
  • If you’re in an area considered to have higher rates of virus transmission, you might want to wear a mask in crowds and when near those who aren’t fully vaccinated.
  • After traveling, the CDC recommends monitoring yourself, and to isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.
  • The CDC also outlines suggestions for safer traveling, like traveling with only people from your household and those who are fully vaccinated, keeping road trips and flights short with minimal stops and staying at accommodations with people you know are fully vaccinated.
  • If you’re not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting tested one to three days before leaving, and then three to five days after returning, in addition to self-quarantining for seven days. If you don’t get tested, the agency advises to self-quarantine for 10 days after returning.

For international travel:

  • Check your destination and airline for specific regulations and requirements before planning a trip, as locations differ in rules.
  • All travelers have to be tested for the virus before boarding a plane to the United States. Those who are vaccinated will need to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test within three days of traveling, while unvaccinated people must present a test taken within one day of travel.
  • As of Nov. 8, noncitizen, nonimmigrant travelers to the United States will need to be fully vaccinated, with limited exceptions.
  • The CDC also recommends getting tested three to five days after travel. If you’re not fully vaccinated, the agency recommends to also self-quarantine for seven days after the trip, even if you test negative after the first few days.

Requirements for showing proof of a negative test. If you’re traveling and need to show proof of a negative test, the CDC has several requirements for which tests are accepted, and they must be officially authorized for use by the country in which you’re getting tested.

If you're getting tested

Several pharmacies, urgent care centers and other medical offices are offering different types of COVID-19 tests. Some locations require making an appointment ahead of time or have other specific requirements.

  • New York State offers this searchable tool for you to find a test site near you.
  • You can schedule an appointment online at places such as Walgreens, which offers drive-thru testing, or at CVS with the online scheduler.
  • If you’re in New York City, find a testing site using the resources on this page, which include mobile, pop-up and rapid-testing sites.

At-home tests

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency-use authorization, or EUA, for several at-home COVID-19 tests, some of which require a prescription or may be over the counter. FDA officials have said the agency is prioritizing making more at-home testing options available. The agency has lists on its website of molecular tests and antigen tests that have received EUA.

Here are some at-home tests that have received emergency use authorization from the FDA and might be found in drugstores or online.

This is not an exhaustive list, and some tests that have been authorized are not yet available for purchase or may be out of stock. The FDA also says any test could result in false negatives or positives, and recommends seeking care from health care professionals if you test positive, or if you test negative and still have symptoms.

  • Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test: This kit comes with two tests in each and is taken by nasal swabs in people ages 15 and up — or 2 years and up with swabs collected by an adult, according to the company website. The website indicates both tests are meant for testing twice within three days, with at least 36 hours in between them. Results appear in 15 minutes.
  • Quidel QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test: This antigen test can be used by self-collecting a nasal swab by people 14 and up, or 2 and older if collected by an adult, according to the company website. It’s designed to be used within six days of symptoms appearing and includes two tests to use over three days. Results appear within 10 minutes, the website states.
  • ACON Laboratories Flowflex COVID-19 Home Test: This over-the-counter antigen test can be used with nasal swabs within seven days of symptom start, or without symptoms for people aged 14 and up or 2 and up if collected by an adult. The company website indicates it’s not yet available for distribution in the United States. More info from the FDA.
  • Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit: This test is a single-use molecular test that gives results in 30 minutes or less, the company website states. The test is collected with nasal swab samples from those age 14 and older or those ages 2 to 13 if collected by an adult. More info from the FDA.

Booster shots

U.S. regulators have opened COVID-19 booster shots to all adults. According to the CDC guidelines:

  • If you got a Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: People ages 50 and older, and those over 18 who have underlying medical conditions or work or live in high-risk settings, should get a booster at least six months after the last shot. Others over 18 may get a booster after at least six months.
  • If you received Johnson & Johnson: Anyone over the age of 18 should get a booster at least two months after getting the shot.

With AP