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The Busiest Testing Days of the 2021 Holiday Season

By, Cortney Boccardi, Brand Storyteller

It is that time of year where the topic of conversation around what everyone is doing for the November holidays is creeping back up as more people are craving a return to normal. While the buzz around the water cooler is that travel will have record-breaking numbers this year due to everyone craving the escape from their home bubbles, the topic of safety has also been brought to high alert with the recent OSHA guidelines put into place. We learned a lot last year on how to travel safely, so will it be that different this year? Maybe. We are vaccinated but we are not fully immune so we can anticipate doing the standard before-and-after travel test to ensure not only our safety but the safety of those we will be around. Right?

Masks, Hand Sanitizer and Nose Swabs: Not Much Has Changed For Travel in 2021 

People might think that because we are almost a year past the ‘pandemic without a vaccine’ that things have gone back to normal. Cities, states, and even other countries have flip-flopped the rules around travel, including entry, vaccination status, and exit back to your home country because the only change is that we are vaccinated; the virus is still a threat.  One year ago, the news talked about how Thanksgiving travel would be at the lowest since the great recession of 2008. Thanksgiving travelers on the roads and at airports took about a 10% decline due to health concerns, warnings to stay home and high unemployment, all effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the pandemic environment being slightly more positive as a result of the wave of vaccinations, health and government officials are still adamant that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick. Agreed, it is.  In 2020, travelers were more willing and likely to get a COVID-19 test prior to visiting family and friends for the holiday.  This year, people feel a little less inclined to test even though a large variety of tests are accessible with just a few mouse clicks; much simpler, much easier, and more affordable.  Why is that? Are we feeling like this virus is going to become just like the Influenza virus?  Will it have highs and lows and we just need to prepare for it year after year? 

“But we’re at a pretty complicated juncture, so it’s well worth families and groups thinking very carefully through [how to handle the holiday].” 

In December 2020, the American Medical Association posted an article showing the statistics in the US and Canada during the holiday stating that the winter surge of COVID-19 cases continued to be alarming with more than 100,000 individuals being hospitalized each day and more than 3,000 deaths each day in the post-Thanksgiving period, with total deaths at the time approaching 300,000. Would these numbers have been different if access to at-home tests was available in the numbers they are now? Will people traveling this year test both before and after their holiday tethering to slow the spread of the virus? If at-home testing is available both online and at stores, the answer should be yes! Although these statistics were before we had full access to a vaccine, with one year behind us and many people vaccinated, the US alone has seen over 700,000 deaths due to COVID-19 to date. 

Employers, schools, and families are urging everyone to be safe and repeat what they did last year: Avoid travel if you’re symptomatic, stay away from destinations with high coronavirus transmission rates, wear a mask and practice social distancing. There are many ‘what’ questions attached to holiday travel: What are the chances that people are going to forgo another Thanksgiving due to the pandemic? What are the chances they will get tested to ensure they don’t have COVID-19 before visiting family for the holiday? Given the COVID-19 testing kit shortage that occurred at the end of August due to back-to-school efforts and now the OSHA mandates for employer testing to be in place by January 4, 2022, what are the chances of there being a shortage again after Thanksgiving? After Christmas?  The New Year? 

You’re Hosting This Year So You Call The Shots

Hosting Thanksgiving is one of the biggest ordeals of the year. A refrigerator bulging with foods every healthy lifestyle diet coach in America practically bans flows from the fridge all at once to prepare for a feast that lasts less than an hour and renders 90% of the guests unconscious.  All of this requires prep. Well, this Thanksgiving is bound to have more guests than last year, and the COVID safe bubble is likely to be bigger now that vaccines are helping protect us all. But, what about the kids that are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or the uncle that refuses to get vaccinated? They will all be there and the idea of a safe bubble is a thing of 2020. 

Your prep will now include asking people about their vaccination status and recommending they get a test BEFORE they show up to dinner is not off the proverbial table either.  Let’s face it, if you’ve ever prepared for a vegan Thanksgiving, you can handle the difficult conversation around a COVID-19 testing and vaccination status.  

 Dr. McDermott talked to Delish magazine about her thoughts on the holiday season. “I would say we’re at a different juncture now than we were a year ago,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, Senior Director of Applied Public Health Research at the Research Triangle Institute. “But we’re at a pretty complicated juncture, so it’s well worth families and groups thinking very carefully through [how to handle the holiday].” The article also gave some great advice on how, as a holiday host, to communicate the need for safety to guests.

Is Your Healthcare Provider Ready For The Holiday Spike in COVID-19 Testing? Probably Not!

As physician’s offices, hospitals, and telehealth providers gear up for the approaching holiday season, travelers are looking for advice on both how to remain safe and where to find tests to ensure they are safe both before the trip and after they get back home. But as we all know, we can’t call our doctor’s office and ask them. Their standard reply is “you have to check guidelines”.

Even if you do know what the guidelines are most doctors’ offices won’t provide testing for you or even refer you anywhere. Um, why? My doctor is my go-to for everything. It would be nice if my doctor’s office could just have a simple list, or a postcard to refer me in some direction or a link or two (one is fine, don’t’ hurt yourself, Doc) to say, ‘here are some options for you to find a test close to you’ OR (ready for this supremely easy one) ‘here is a website to go to so you can choose what test you want’. I don’t ask much from my doctor and this is something that I want them to do so I know they are looking out for me.  

The best thing to do is to stay home, especially with numbers holding steady in some parts of the country and the two variants causing concern all over the world. Honestly, you’re thinking right now, ‘I don’t want to hear that anymore!’. What I want to hear is that everyone is taking the proper precautions to be safe. The fact of the matter is you can’t keep an adventurous person, a grandma who misses her grandkids, or a college student who just finished finals at home for the holidays this year.

Happy start to the 2021 holiday season everyone and please stay safe!

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