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You asked: How should I handle holiday visits to unvaccinated households?

This pre-Thanksgiving By The Way Concierge looks at holiday travel and the thorny subject of vaccinations

(Cynthia Kittler for The Washington Post)

Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

“How should I handle visits (after air travel) to households where some members are unvaccinated?” — Anonymous

We recently broke down the ins and outs of seasonal safety in our guide to safer holiday travel. You will find that expert advice from doctors and epidemiologists changes distinctly for those who are unvaccinated, or those who will be around people who are unvaccinated.

“The safest protection for you and your loved ones is for everybody who’s eligible to be immunized and everybody who’s eligible for a booster to be boosted,” Chris Beyrer, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me when I called him with your question.

If someone involved in your holiday festivities is unvaccinated, Beyrer said, it is appropriate to ask the un-immunized to get a rapid test in advance of gathering.

As mask mandates lift, we're going to have to decide whether or not to wear a mask indoors. (Video: Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

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“If people are making the choice not to be immunized, then others around them have the right to ask for them to get tested,” he said. “There are lots of reasons for not being immunized. It’s hard to imagine a really good reason for not being willing to be tested to be together.”

Of course, not everyone can get vaccinated, such as young children, and some people are vulnerable even after vaccination, including people with underlying conditions or who are immunocompromised.

Beyrer said if your group is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, spend as much time together outside as possible and mask when you can indoors. He said he knows it is tough to do if the location of your gathering is cold and when eating and drinking is a centerpiece of holiday celebrations.

“Outdoor activities are way safer. … This is really an indoor virus,” he said.

If the idea of asking someone about their vaccination status or requesting they get tested sounds terrifying, I got some conflict resolution tips from Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has an advice column, “Ask Dr. Andrea,” for The Lily. She said that because these conversations aren’t easy, many people will probably put them off or avoid them altogether.

“The truth is, we’re still dealing with a public health situation where people need to make informed decisions,” Bonior said. “And you can’t make an informed decision if you’re beating around the bush or assuming something.”

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Bonior recommended going into the conversation with respect and without being overly apologetic.

“You can be pretty straightforward and say ‘Hey, I know this might be a loaded question, but did you end up getting the vaccine?’" she said. “But also establish your reasons. 'I feel firmly that it’s in my best interest and my family’s best interests to make sure that we’re not doing indoor stuff with unvaccinated people yet,’ or whatever it might be.”

Also, Bonior says the sooner you ask, the better. The longer you wait, the more complicated it may become to adjust your plans or frustrate your host. Be prepared for whatever answer comes from your questioning.

“It really depends on your own comfort level but having that Plan B in mind is helpful before the conversation begins so that you can have something to point to as a potential solution,” Bonior said.

For your own air-travel concerns, Beyrer doesn’t feel worried about coronavirus transmission on planes, where air is circulated regularly and masks are required. His bigger concern is spending time in crowded transit hubs with less air circulation, such as airports and train stations.

“I think that’s why it’s very important to remain masked in those settings,” he said.

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