Alaska’s top doctor shares tips for avoiding COVID spread at holiday gatherings

A group of friends around a fire in front of a house under some hanging patio lights
A group of friends sits around a fire at a South Addition house. Owner Matthew Lohr says his housemates are doing their best to be COVID conscious at gatherings by separating into household groups and keeping gatherings outdoors. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

It’s the second holiday season of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year has one major difference from 2020, if you ask the state’s top doctor.

“We have vaccine this year versus last year, we didn’t. And it’s a really big game changer,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink told reporters last week. She said the vaccine has taken a burden out of holiday planning by allowing families to gather together more safely.

Zink recommends over-the-counter COVID-19 tests if someone at your holiday gathering is immunocompromised or if there will be a large group of people in attendance. She said her family was initially skeptical about how easy they’d be to use, but now they’re converts.

Zink, however, won’t be home with her family for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

“My Thanksgiving isn’t going to be as fun as probably others’,” she said. “I’ll be working in the emergency department, partially because my colleagues are really getting a chance to partner and to be with their families, which they haven’t been able to be. And so I’m covering for them so they can gather with their families.”

The state’s health department recommends avoiding crowded indoor spaces, wearing a mask around anyone who has a weakened immune system and staying home if you are sick.

The state on Tuesday reported 487 new COVID-19 cases and six Alaskan deaths. The Alaskans who died included two women in their 40s, a man in his 50s and three people in their 60s. There are currently 99 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in Alaska hospitals, 11 of them on ventilators.

A total of 61% of Alaskans age 5 and up have received at least their first dose of vaccine.

The state’s COVID-19 dashboard will not be updated over the holiday. Starting Dec. 6, the state will return to COVID-19 reporting only three days per week.

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