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COVID-19 and the holidays: Should you gather with unvaccinated family members?

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Posted at 7:03 PM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 10:29:18-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Many Hoosiers are planning to spend time with family members this holiday season after not being able to see them due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, should you be concerned about spending time with unvaccinated loved ones?

Matthew Hardgrove recently found himself navigating this situation when visiting rural Indiana recently for his grandmother's funeral.

Hardgrove, who lives in Denver, Colo., said it was a solemn event, drawing family from far-flung parts of the state. Many of them, Hardgrove said, were not vaccinated against COVID-19.

"At minimum one-third of the people in attendance mentioned in some way they won’t vaccinate," Hardgrove said. "All were the family that lives in Henry County, with most of them being over 60 and in poor health — the exact group that needs to vaccinate."

So what can you do in this situation?

You can't make people take a shot they don't want, so the Centers for Disease Control suggests that you control the things you can control.

"Get vaccinated yourself," the CDC recommends in a fact sheet offering guidance for dealing with your unvaccinated family. "COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19 and can also reduce the risk of spreading it."

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The CDC's list of recommendations for dealing with unvaccinated loved ones may sound familiar. We've been living with them for about a year now.

  • Get a COVID-19 test before you celebrate.
  • Everyone at the gathering should wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth.
  • Gather outside, if possible.
  • If you must be inside — and Christmas celebrations aren't typically outdoor events — gather in a well-ventilated room, which according to the CDC means you probably have to open a window even though it's cold outside.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Keep six feet of social distance between yourself and others.

COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated, have been flooding Indiana hospitals in recent weeks. On Thursday, IU Health officials announced they were calling on the Indiana National Guard to send help to most of its hospitals throughout the state.

“As COVID cases continue to increase and hospitalization of COVID and non-COVID patients reach all-time highs, the demand and strain on Indiana University Health’s team members, nurses and providers have never been greater,” IU Health said.

The COVID crisis in Indiana hospitals is at a breaking point after case numbers reached the highest levels since last winter.

The Indiana Department of Health on Wednesday reported 2,755 Hoosiers are hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state — the highest number of people hospitalized with the virus since Jan. 7.

About 51% of Indiana residents are fully vaccinated, making it the 11th lowest rate in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine rural counties scattered around the state have vaccination rates below 40%, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Eric Holcomb this week told the AP that he's been frustrated by the anti-vaccine excuses he's heard from Hoosiers, including one woman who told the governor the vaccine put a chip inside of him.

“We deal with the absurd and we deal with facts and there’s a lot in between there for people to form their own opinions,” Holcomb told The Associated Press. “What I have to do is try to be persuasive enough so that folks understand that they’re going to learn it the easy way or the hard way, unfortunately, by being vaccinated or not.”

More: Holcomb frustrated with 'absurd' COVID-19 vaccine-refusal reasons | What you should know as IU Health requests help from the National Guard

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.