How to Plan a Holiday Gathering That’s Safe for Immunocompromised Guests

Close-up shot of three Covid-19 rapid antigen test kits with negative results under Christmas tree

Carlos Ciudad Photography / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • There are simple steps people can take to make holiday get-togethers safer for immunocompromised and chronically ill loved ones.
  • Certain chronic conditions, autoimmune diseases, and medications can place people at a higher risk of COVID-19.
  • Resuming COVID precautions that may have fallen to the wayside is an important way to make high-risk people feel safe and included this holiday season.

As we enter the third holiday season of the pandemic, COVID-19 almost seems like a thing of the past. Booster shots have bolstered COVID protection for over 114 million Americans, holiday parties are back on, and testing requirements are few and far between. But as safety precautions fall away, people living with chronic diseases and compromised immune systems are forced to be more COVID-conscious than most.

Being immunocompromised can take many forms, from undergoing cancer treatment to living with a chronic condition (like kidney disease) or an autoimmune condition (like rheumatoid arthritis). Even if an immunocompromised individual is fully up to date on their booster shots, their medications may render the effectiveness of the vaccines lower.

As you begin to plan holiday gatherings, it’s important to keep these individuals, who are still at high risk of COVID-19, in mind, said Zoe Rothblatt, MPH, associate director of community outreach of arthritis support group CreakyJoints.

“It takes the burden off of us when we’re already dealing with a chronic illness and have so much going on,” Rothblatt, who lives with ankylosing spondylitis and Crohn’s disease, told Verywell.

By taking a few deliberate, simple steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission, hosts and attendees who are not considered high risk can make the holiday season safer and more inclusive for the immunocompromised.

Get Boosted

Once you have a date for a holiday get together scheduled, if you haven’t gotten your bivalent COVID booster yet and are eligible, you should do so as soon as possible and encourage others to do the same.

Jessica Tuan, MD, infectious disease instructor at Yale School of Medicine, told Verywell that planning your booster appointment well in advance of your gathering matters for complete protection.

“Keep in mind it can take three to four weeks to develop optimal immunity,” she said.

Tuan said folks who’ve recently been sick with COVID-19, however, may need to delay a booster.

“You should wait at least 10 days after the onset of symptoms or after your positive COVID test to receive the vaccine,” she said. “However, the CDC says you may even consider delaying the next COVID-19 vaccine by three months from symptom onset.”

Implement a Testing Plan

Before going to a holiday gathering, people should test for COVID-19 even if they are not experiencing any symptoms. People who are asymptomatic can still spread the disease to others.

If possible, seek out a lab test instead of relying on an at-home rapid test.

“PCR tests remain the consensus for recommended COVID testing [among the medical community],” Tuan said.

These days, most PCR tests offer results within 48 hours of your swab. Check with the provider or clinic who is administering the test for an exact timeframe, but a good rule of thumb is to test two days before your event.

If you only have access to a rapid test, take it the day of the event.

How Immunocompromised People Are Celebrating This Year

An October poll from CreakyJoints asked 802 people with arthritis and other autoimmune disorders how they plan to celebrate the holidays:

  • 25% will celebrate in person with family and/or friends but take COVID-19 precautions  
  • 19% will celebrate with their household (no outside family or friends) 
  • 16% will celebrate like they did before the pandemic 
  • 15% will celebrate in person with a smaller group than usual 
  • 14% are not sure of their plans yet 
  • 11% will determine plans based on family and friends’ vaccination status 
  • 5% will cancel usual holiday plans and celebrate alone 
  • 5% will celebrate virtually with family and/or friends

Check In With Your Guests

If you’re hosting a person who you know is considered high-risk for COVID-19, be sure to ask all guests to take COVID-19 precautions ahead of the gathering, like masking in public places. As of December 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is once again encouraging mask-wearing, director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said on a reporter call.

Consider asking attendees to take a test prior to the party, or even providing rapid tests to your guests upon arrival.

Don’t assume people are proactively taking steps to minimize exposing others to COVID-19. Research shows people tend to assume a sense of safety among those they’re close with, even if it’s unwarranted.

Sending a text or an email to all your guests about your COVID-19 safety plan is a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page, and to make your high-risk loved ones feel safe.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Am I immunocompromised?

  3. Britton A, Embi PJ, Levy ME, et al. Effectiveness of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines against COVID-19–associated hospitalizations among immunocompromised adults during SARS-CoV-2 omicron predominance — VISION network, 10 States, December 2021—August 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(42):1335–1342. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7142a4

  4. LabCorp. How to get my COVID-19 test result.

  5. Quest Diagnostics. Turnaround time for COVID-19 test results.

  6. De Vries ELE, Lee HC. Friend-shield protection from the crowd: How friendship makes people feel invulnerable to COVID-19J Exp Psychol Appl. Published online April 7, 2022. doi:10.1037/xap0000417

By Julia Métraux
Julia Métraux is a health and culture writer specializing in disability.