How to protect kids from COVID-19 this holiday season

Two parents with their child
(Anthony Russo / For The Times)

This is the Nov. 1, 2021, edition of the 8 to 3 newsletter about school, kids and parenting. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox every Monday.

It’s that time of year again. Halloween has come and gone and before you know it, turkey will be on the table (or Tofurky, for our vegan readers).

For many of us, this holiday season will be so much better than last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and mixing households was treacherous. Now, 69% of California residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and the virus appears to be in retreat. New infections and deaths across the U.S. have plunged more than 45% since a surge in September.

And now vaccine accessibility for kids ages 5 to 11 is within grasp. On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration’s panel of scientific advisors voted overwhelmingly to recommend that access to the vaccine be extended to younger children. California officials said they are preparing to offer doses to the roughly 3.5 million children in the age group statewide as soon as the end of next week.


Even in the best-case scenario, though, many young kids won’t be fully inoculated before Thanksgiving. We know that children are largely protected from the worst effects of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t be cautious; COVID-19 now ranks eighth on the list of leading causes of death for children ages 5 to 11, claiming the lives of at least 94 children in this age group over the course of the pandemic.

I spoke with my colleagues Luke Money and Ron Lin — who’ve tirelessly covered the disease and our state’s response to it — about how to keep kiddos safe this holiday season.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

8-to-3: How risky are holiday gatherings for kids this year, particularly those who are unvaccinated?

R.L.: It depends on the situation that they’re going into. If parents and extended family members are vaccinated, they’re pretty well-protected. But things get a lot more risky should an unvaccinated person come in with an illness and everyone’s in a crowded room. That would put a kid at higher risk of getting infected.

L.M.: It’s all about the context of the gathering. Generally speaking, if you’re talking about a bunch of vaccinated people, and a few unvaccinated children, health officials seem to think that’s probably OK.But if you have elderly relatives or people who are immunocompromised who may not have received the full level of protection from their vaccinations, you might want to avoid large gatherings and take extra precautions.

R.L.: Kids really do have a lower risk overall. But one thing to really keep in mind is that if they get infected, they’ll get pulled out of school. It’s very disruptive. They could also be a threat to Grandma and Grandpa, who may be fully vaccinated but if they get a breakthrough infection, have a higher risk of having severe complications.


8-to-3: How does flu season factor into the riskiness of holiday gatherings this year? The term “twindemic” is circulating again.

R.L.: There was a lot of concern about just the regular flu season hitting when COVID was very robust last year, and it ended up not happening, in large part because the tried-and-true prevention methods for COVID also work for the flu. So many businesses were closed and the general recommendation was not to gather. And that’s just not the case this time around. There’s just a lot more opportunity for people to contract flu and other respiratory illnesses. And so I think there’s definitely a great concern this year for the possibility of the “twindemic.”

8-to-3: How can parents mitigate risk during this season of gatherings, while still allowing their kids to celebrate with loved ones?

R.L.: The first thing they can do is make sure that everyone who’s visiting is vaccinated. Anyone eligible for the flu shot, 6 months or older, should get it. And older people and those who got their Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get their boosters. If you want to be super careful, take a coronavirus rapid test just before the gathering.

L.M.: We are really blessed to have great weather here in California pretty much all year round. I know it seems really obvious, but outdoors is just a lot safer than indoors, particularly if people from a lot of different places are flying in. There’s not any single silver bullet to the pandemic, but if you layer a lot of different protections on top of each other, you’re just going to make yourself and your family a lot safer and you can celebrate without too much worry.

R.L.: There are some experts who say that if their kids were too young to be vaccinated, they just wouldn’t invite any unvaccinated guests.

8-to-3: Last year, many people chose to test for COVID-19 in the days leading up to gatherings. This wasn’t always an effective safety measure, nor recommended by public health experts, as you can become infectious in the time between getting tested and the gathering. With that in mind, how might COVID-19 testing be utilized this holiday season?

R.L. The difference this year is that rapid tests are more accessible. If you’re about to go to an event and you take the test just before, there’s a pretty good chance that it’ll catch it if you’re highly contagious. PCR lab tests are not going to be as helpful because that information will be a day or more old by the time you get the results. I think that the combination of using the rapid test plus being vaccinated dramatically reduces the risks. It was much riskier last year when no one was vaccinated, and someone attending a gathering who had a false negative could lead to a potentially disastrous situation.

8-to-3: Is it possible that kids 12 and under will have the opportunity to get vaccinated before the end of the holiday season?

L.M.: Yeah, it’s definitely possible, based on the timeline that’s been discussed at the federal and state levels. Public health officials in California are saying that they’re preparing to start vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as by the end of this ... week, which means some youngsters could potentially get both of the required Pfizer shots by Thanksgiving, for instance.

8-to-3: Anything else parents should be thinking about as we head into the holidays?

R.L.: I want to make the point that when these vaccines become available for younger kids, that doesn’t trigger the requirement that Gov. [Gavin] Newsom has telegraphed in terms of making vaccines required as a condition to go to public and private classrooms. That statewide requirement probably won’t go into effect until next summer, at the earliest.

L.M. The pandemic is much like a lot of aspects of parenting, where a lot comes down to elements of risk. I personally know parents who are totally fine with their unvaccinated children being around unvaccinated adults. I also know parents from the other end of the spectrum who are saying, if you’re not vaccinated, stay away, we’ll meet up with you later. So you should determine what level of risk you’re comfortable with and act accordingly.

More COVID, more scandal

If you’re wondering why some L.A. Unified employees are willing to lose their jobs rather than get a COVID-19 vaccination, my colleague Howard Blume caught up with some of them and heard their stories.

An L.A. Times editorial offers ideas for how L.A. Unified can overcome the academic and emotional toll the pandemic has taken on students.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing between two private schools — one in Colorado, one in Santa Barbara — over the arrest of a teacher in Boulder over sexual misconduct. Did the Cate School in Santa Barbara fail to tell the Dawson School about the teacher’s past? The Times’ Brittny Mejia looked into it.

I usually leave high school sports to my colleague Eric Sondheimer, who has his own newsletter, “Prep Rally.” But how can we ignore the uproar over a high school football game in which the winning team, Inglewood High, ran up the score to 106-0? “It was a classless move,” the losing coach said.

I want to hear from you.

Have feedback? Ideas? Questions? Story tips? Email me. And keep in touch on Twitter.

What else we’re reading

If he can carry it over the finish line, President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan “would be arguably the greatest victory for American families in several generations,” one expert says, adding that many parents “may not realize quite yet just how enormous a change is coming.” The Atlantic.

Looking to lessen your environmental footprint by reducing waste? Here’s what one San Diego family is doing, from buying in bulk to growing most of their food to ... well, let them tell you. San Diego Union-Tribune.

Granted, most kids are back in school now. But the pandemic allowed some educators to test out ways of teaching reading on Zoom, and concluded that it can be a valuable tool in developing literacy. EdSource.

Parents in one South L.A. neighborhood have been voting with their feet — well, their children’s feet — as a traditional elementary school loses students in the competition with a charter school. Daily News.

Here’s one mom’s recipe for successful parenting: benign neglect. Romper.

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