How to Lower Your Covid Risk During Holiday Gatherings

For many people, coping with the anxiety of going out and about may be the hardest part of adjusting to this next phase of pandemic life.,

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The last time I traveled on a plane was in February 2020, when I brought home a severe case of the flu that felled me for three weeks. (A flu test confirmed my illness.) I had never been so sick in my life.

But I didn’t blame travel for my illness. I blamed myself, because I hadn’t gotten the flu vaccine. I swore I’d never miss a flu shot again.

I’ve been thinking about that trip while getting ready to board an airplane for the first time in nearly two years. I’m flying from New York to California to meet my daughter, a college senior, and some friends for Thanksgiving. We’re calling it Vaxgiving, because everybody who is eligible is fully vaccinated, and a few of us even have our booster shots.

Even so, I’m feeling a bit anxious about the trip. For many people, coping with the anxiety of getting back out and about may be the hardest part of adjusting to this next phase of pandemic life.

To help ease the worry of holiday gatherings during a pandemic, I worked with my Times colleagues to create a fun quiz to help guide your decisions. Whether you’re staying local, traveling on a plane or hosting a big family party, there are ways to lower risk. There’s even advice for parents of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children, and for those who will be celebrating with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated guests. This is a judgment-free guide to help you lower risk and worry less, no matter what situation you find yourself in.

Covid precautions don’t have to get in the way of the good times. Just plan ahead, do what you can to lower risk and enjoy the holiday.

And don’t forget your flu shot!

Take the pandemic holiday quiz:
We’re Having a Holiday Gathering. Are We Nuts?

More from the well newsletter

Your best advice for mental health days

Pulling weeds, attending a movie matinee or just doing nothing: That’s how Well readers spend their time when they need to take a day off to recharge. Christina Caron explains:

The pandemic has pushed many of us to re-examine our priorities and become more attuned to our needs, so the idea of taking a mental health day away from work or school has begun to seem essential rather than daring. But what is the ideal way to fill those hours, so that we walk away feeling refreshed and recharged?

We turned to our readers to find out what they do during a mental health day. The replies poured in — and not just from those caught up in the rat race. Some said they had been retired for years, others were stay-at-home parents and some responded on behalf of their burned-out teenagers.

So take a load off and get more ideas for how to spend your mental health day. As a bonus, check out Wirecutter’s advice for finding the best pajamas.

Find out how Well readers take mental health breaks:
Mental Health Days Are Important. Here’s How to Make Yours Worthwhile.

An easier Thanksgiving

We’ve all had a tough year, so why not make your Thanksgiving a little easier? My favorite food columnist, Eric Kim, has great advice for cooking a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey, as well as recipes for easy umami gravy, mashed sweet potatoes, a green bean salad, a lemony cranberry relish and caramel apple pudding. His unconventional cheesy pizza stuffing is a fun take on a traditional dish that is sure to convert some stuffing skeptics. Eric writes:

I set out to devise a scaled-down menu for beginners — or anyone who wants to achieve the same flavor touchstones without doing more work than necessary.

Most of the dishes can be prepared with little more than a sheet pan and a large skillet. Everything cooks at one temperature — 350 degrees — so you’re not performing mental or physical gymnastics with the oven.

The shopping is easy, because these recipes call for a limited number of essential ingredients, many of which are shared across the menu. Forget the fresh herbs — they’re just one more thing you’d have to wash. Instead, rely on a single dried herb (oregano, thyme or sage are all fair game) to act as a flavor motif throughout the meal.

And avoid the last-minute cooking sprint. Much of this menu can (and should) be made the day before, when you’re less stressed. (It should take about three to four hours.) Roll up your sleeves, put on a podcast and enjoy the cooking.

Check out Eric Kim’s seven new holiday recipes:
Simplify Your Thanksgiving

The Week in Well

Here are some stories you don’t want to miss:

Gretchen Reynolds explains why 300 weekly minutes of exercise lowers cancer risk.

David Leonhardt writes about how we might navigate this point in the pandemic.

Christina Caron explores why more Black children die of suicide.

Jane Brody writes about all those tests you have to take before surgery.

And, of course, we have the Weekly Health Quiz.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter for daily check-ins, or write to me at well_newsletter@nytimes.com.

Stay well!

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