A black and white photo shows the profile of a Black person with a twist-out hairstyle wearing a medical mask. Pale green and white squares overlay the image.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know 

  • Getting this season’s updated COVID-19, flu, and RSV vaccines (if you’re eligible) reduces your risk of related hospitalization and death. Visit Vaccines.gov to find an appointment near you.
  • Wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask when you travel protects you from all kinds of viruses, including COVID-19, the flu, and RSV.
  • If you’re hosting a gathering, improving ventilation in your household can reduce the spread of airborne viruses.

The holiday season is almost here, and respiratory virus season is in full swing. Cases of the flu and RSV are on the rise, and newer COVID-19 variants might be better at evading our immune response.

Getting vaccinated, masking, and improving air quality are all safe and effective ways to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. While no single layer of protection is 100 percent effective, applying layers of protection will further reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, the flu, and RSV.

Read on to learn about how to stay safe this holiday season: When you should get updated vaccines, how you should use COVID-19 rapid tests, and what do to if you get sick before your festivities.

Is it too late to get vaccinated before the holidays?

No. It typically takes your body around two weeks after receiving a vaccine to develop a full immune response, but your immune system may see some benefit within days of your vaccination. Visit Vaccines.gov to schedule your updated COVID-19, flu, and RSV vaccines (if you’re eligible) as soon as possible.

According to the CDC, it’s safe to get your updated COVID-19 vaccine and annual flu vaccine at the same time. Adults 60 and older who are eligible for the RSV vaccine can safely get their COVID-19, flu, and RSV vaccines at the same time.

How can COVID-19 rapid tests help protect you against the virus?

COVID-19 rapid tests are a low-cost, efficient way to test for COVID-19 at home, and they’re available for purchase at most pharmacies. You can also order four free COVID-19 rapid tests online at COVID.gov/tests.

The CDC says positive rapid test results are very accurate and reliable. However, a negative test result does not rule out infection. Rapid tests are less likely to detect a COVID-19 infection than a PCR test from your health care provider, especially if you don’t have symptoms.

Encouraging guests to take COVID-19 rapid tests before a holiday gathering is an additional way to protect your guests and yourself against COVID-19. However, this method is best used alongside other layers of protection for a safe holiday season.

What should I do if I get sick before the holidays?

If you get sick before the holidays, avoid traveling to avoid spreading the virus. Wear a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask around others, especially babies, older adults, and immunocompromised people, who may be more vulnerable to infection.

See a health care provider who can test you for COVID-19, the flu, and RSV and prescribe appropriate treatment. Remember that even if you take a COVID-19 rapid test at home and get a negative result, you may still have COVID-19 and be contagious.

For more information, talk to your health care provider.