More Americans are planning holiday parties without masks this year as Covid vaccine rates climb

Passengers pass through O’Hare International Airport before the Thanksgiving holiday during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Chicago, Illinois, November 25, 2020.

Camille Krzaczynski | Reuters

This year, fewer Americans plan to take precautions against Covid-19 when hosting or attending holiday gatherings than last year, suggesting some are returning to normal life now that 59% of the country has been vaccinated against the virus.

The survey published Monday showed that researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center surveyed 2,042 adults nationwide from October 29 to November 1, and found that 51% would require partygoers to wear masks, down from 67%. Half of those surveyed would request vaccination status for their friends and family.

Dr. Jan Gunsenhauser, one of the survey collaborators and chief quality and patent safety officer at Wexner Medical Center, said anti-vaccine and mask sentiment were not necessarily to blame. He added that vaccinated Americans are starting to feel more comfortable seeing each other without masks, and groups of fully vaccinated individuals can enjoy the holidays together “without taking any precautions.”

“I was surprised to see that 51% were still considering requiring attendees to wear masks,” Johnson said. “I think what we’ve seen happen is a change in the understanding and approach to risk mitigation, particularly with a large proportion of vaccinated individuals.”

About 50% of respondents said they would not ask if attendees had been vaccinated, while 54% of those surveyed said they would not require unvaccinated guests to show evidence of a negative Covid test. Johnsenhauser said the challenges in getting a test made the public less likely to request a negative result from attendees.

US health leaders are urging Americans to get their vaccines and booster shots before the holiday after Covid cases hit an all-time high of more than 250,000 a day in the weeks after last Christmas. Gunsenhauser warned that a more severe wave of cases could erupt after the holiday again, which is fueled by the country’s nearly 60 million unvaccinated people.

To mitigate another outbreak, Gonsenhauser recommended limiting ceremonies to vaccinations only. When that’s not possible, Gunsenhauser said hosts should ask guests to disclose their vaccination status and have their non-vaccinated guests wear masks.

Researchers still found that 76% of participants would ask attendees with Covid symptoms to avoid their gatherings, while 72% planned to celebrate exclusively with their family members. These numbers are down from 82% and 79%, respectively, in 2020.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, the United States is beginning to see another surge in infections after nearly three weeks of relatively flat cases. The seven-day average for cases nationwide was about 83,500 on Monday, up 14% from the previous week, according to CNBC’s analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Arturo Casadevall, chair of the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in an email to CNBC. He called on families to protect their vulnerable relatives through vaccination, adding that those showing signs of illness should be tested for Covid before gathering on Thanksgiving.

“My advice to those who haven’t been vaccinated is to get vaccinated right away, because partial immunity at Thanksgiving dinner is better than no immunity,” Casadevall wrote. “Every family needs to do a risk assessment.”

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