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COVID-19 safety steps must be maintained over holidays, doctors say

Precautions during the holidays are still necessary to

Precautions during the holidays are still necessary to guard against COVID-19 this year, experts said, even with the vaccine. Credit: AP/Nam Y. Huh

Medical experts on Monday cautioned Long Islanders to keep up their guard against COVID-19 this Thanksgiving and to take added safety steps around family members who are unvaccinated.

Their warnings came as COVID-19 indicators on Long Island and throughout New York State continue to increase. On the positive side, however, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday that 90% of adult New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

"While that is an incredible achievement, it's crucial we continue to take precautions to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from this deadly virus as we head into the holiday season," Hochul said in a statement.

Medical experts said the best tool for beating the virus during the holidays is the vaccine.

What to know

Medical experts on Monday cautioned Long Islanders to keep up their guard against COVID-19 this Thanksgiving, 

Dr. Nancy Kwon, vice chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said the safest approach for Thanksgiving is to gather with other vaccinated people in small groups.

COVID-19 indicators continued to rise in the region and throughout the state, according to data released Monday. The seven-day average for positivity inched up on Long Island to 4.18% in test results from Sunday.

"Maintaining our caution just as we did last year is what we need to do for the holidays," said Dr. Nancy Kwon, vice chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "Certainly being vaccinated is one of the key things that can help protect us all. So if you are not vaccinated, you should get vaccinated."

Kwon said the safest approach for Thanksgiving is to gather with other vaccinated people in small groups. While it can be tricky to inquire whether potential guests are vaccinated, she said it is a good idea.

"If it is family and friends and people feel comfortable asking, I would ask," she said. "And if they are not vaccinated, I would actually recommend trying to maintain distance or not gathering or wearing masks."

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said, "Each family has to make their own decision. We can’t tell families absolutely yes and absolutely no."

If a family member, for instance, has serious underlying health conditions, it is clearly not a good idea to invite unvaccinated people to their home or to have a large gathering, she said.

But if everyone is vaccinated, no one has serious medical issues, and the gathering is not large, it is probably OK — though taking precautions such as keeping seats distanced and windows open if possible are good ideas, Nachman said.

"We really want families to start reconnecting and getting together, but do it with a good degree of caution," she said. "Do as best a job as you can, and good is not the opposite of perfect."

Dr. Uzma Syed, infectious disease specialist at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, suggested people traveling for the holidays — especially unvaccinated people — get tested for COVID-19 one to three days beforehand, and if they are not feeling well, don't go.

"If they have any symptoms, then they really should not be coming to a gathering and risking exposing people and getting other people infected," she said. "For everybody to be safe, ideally the best scenario is that everybody is vaccinated and asymptomatic. Testing just adds another layer of safety."

Syed also recommended that people limit their social exposure for the 10 days before a Thanksgiving gathering to reduce the chances they get infected — and then spread it to family and friends.

Nachman said all of these concerns should be addressed by families and friends in a civil manner.

"I tell families this is something that they do have to negotiate," she said. "And the answer may sometimes be an absolute yes or an absolute no or a strong maybe. But no screaming and yelling, no shouting. Negotiate it as a family."

COVID-19 indicators continued to rise, according to data released Monday.

The seven-day average for positivity inched up on Long Island to 4.18% in test results from Sunday. Statewide, the figure was 3.82%.

Long Island tallied 807 new daily cases of COVID-19, with 348 cases in Nassau and 459 in Suffolk.

Statewide, 33 people died on Sunday of causes linked to COVID-19. None of the fatalities were on Long Island.

With Matthew Chayes

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