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COVID-19 safety ahead of the holidays

Health professionals are finding it hard to shake their concern for the virus as the holidays arrive.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — As we head over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house for Thanksgiving, a local doctor has some suggestions to ensure a safe, COVID-19 free holiday season, despite the steady rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.

Dr. Thomas Balcezak, Chief Clinical Officer at Yale New Haven Health, tells FOX61 that they saw COVID-19 related hospitalizations rise from 50 to 90 over the last couple of weeks. YNHH is America's fourth largest hospital system. 

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Waning vaccination protection for those who become fully vaccinated more than six months ago, the stubborn Delta variant and environmental factors have health professionals finding it hard to shake their concern for the virus as the holidays arrive.

"It’s getting colder, humidity levels are dropping, people are spending more time congregated indoors, often times in very closed settings where there is not masking happening," Balcezak said.

While being fully vaccinated is great, it's not as good as being fully vaccinated and boosted, according to Balcezak. He also said people should minimize the potential environmental exposure during gatherings if it all possible. 

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"Either through reducing the number of folks in a closed area, increasing ventilation or masking," Balcezak added.

If someone is not certain of an invited guest's vaccination status and is uncomfortable asking, Yale's CCO suggests adding COVID-19 testing to your party.

"Within 24, 48, 72 hours of your gathering to give an additional layer of protection," he said. "The variant has some impact, but our behavior, as humans, and how we are approaching the infection prevention methods, is really the story here."

Another big debate lately has been when masking in schools can be eliminated. Balcezak contends that depends on a couple of factors.

"One is what’s the level of vaccination among the students and the staff," he said.

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Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that over 90% of teachers and staff in K-12 schools are fully vaccinated in Connecticut. 

As of last Thursday, 70% of kids ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated and 20% of kids ages 5-11 have received one dose, according to the state Department of Public Health.

"We need to get that up over 50, 60, 70% before I think we can talk about seriously unmasking in a large way," Balcezak added.

Some medical experts say data suggests that the time for unmasking in schools will be sometime in late January, while others predict the spring.

RELATED: AAA predicts millions of New Englanders will travel for Thanksgiving this year

Tony Terzi is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tterzi@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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