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With Thanksgiving less than a week away, medical providers at Hartford HealthCare urged Connecticut residents Friday to exercise caution during the holidays to minimize their risk of contracting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus during get-togethers. 

During a morning press call, Dr. Ulysses Wu, the health care system’s chief epidemiologist, encouraged residents to be cognizant of their surroundings as they gather this year with friends and family. That means weighing their vaccination status and the status of the people they plan to celebrate with. Wu said even residents who were vaccinated more than six months ago and have not yet received booster shots should consider wearing a mask and social distancing. 

“We need to embrace normalcy at this point but we need to be smart about it,” Wu said. “This could be the new normal for quite some time.”

Although he acknowledged it may cause divisions in some circles, Wu encouraged residents to have conversations with their friends and families about the vaccination status and health of the people attending events. Whether someone is vaccinated or not is a personal choice, he said, but one with societal implications. 

“Personally, to me, I don’t think it’s intrusive [to ask] because of the societal implications of somebody coming to your abode or you going to somebody else’s abode where somebody may be sick,” Wu said. “I think it’s okay to have these courageous conversations and not try to hide behind ideological lines.”

Keith Grant, APRN and senior director of infection prevention, said residents should not be afraid to inquire whether others have been vaccinated or whether they are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus. 

“I wouldn’t accept, ‘It’s just allergies.’ I would be very cautious with statements such as that,” Grant said. “Personal risk assessment is, to me, one of the most important things for us to ensure this holiday season.”  

Wu and Grant encouraged residents to get booster shots to buff waning immunities to the virus if they were eligible. This week Gov. Ned Lamont encouraged any adult who had been vaccinated more than six months ago to seek a supplemental shot despite more restrictive federal recommendations. On Friday morning, the Food and Drug Administration expanded its emergency authorization for Pfizer and Moderna booster shots. A Centers for Disease Control panel was expected to meet later in the day to consider the expansion. 

Wu said booster shots were important, but warned that the decision came too late to impact Thanksgiving plans next week. 

“It does take time for your immune system to ramp up,” Wu said. “With regards to people travelling for Thanksgiving, it’s going to have no impact. But for the future holidays after that, it’s definitely going to have some impact.”

Wu noted that Connecticut’s COVID infection rates crept up following Halloween in a small surge that began to subside in the later half of this week. On Thursday, the infection rate stood at 2.55% after climbing as high as 4.31% on Tuesday. 

“Looking forward, our next big hurdle is going to be Thanksgiving,” he said. 

Although both providers said residents would likely need to be cognizant of COVID mitigation strategies in some form for the foreseeable future, Grant said he hoped the expanding availability of booster shots would make gathering safer going forward. 

“Hopefully next year at this time we’re having a different kind of discussion about appreciating the holiday, but at this point, personal risk assessment, be safe, enjoy the holiday,” Grant said.