Heading into the cooler months, an awkward situation is likely to rear its head more often as individuals move their celebrations and gatherings indoors, potentially pitting those who've received the COVID-19 vaccination against those who have not.

Medical professionals promote vaccination and mask-wearing as vital steps in reducing the risk posed by COVID-19, but that doesn't make it easy for someone to tell a lifelong friend or family member that this year they're not invited to Thanksgiving dinner or a birthday party.

Dr. Stephanie Silvera, an epidemiologist and a professor of public health at Montclair State University, said now's still not the time to pack 50 people in one's home. But if risk reduction is the goal, and it should be, then asking that all guests of an indoor event have the vaccination, or wear a mask for the entirety of the event, would be part of the equation.

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"What we really need to think about this is as is truly a public health issue, where we have to take care of one another, and really think of this as protecting not just ourselves but our community," Silvera told New Jersey 101.5.

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Silvera recommends that children, many of whom aren't yet old enough to receive a vaccine, wear masks at indoor gatherings as well. Since the start of the school year, COVID outbreaks have impacted dozens of communities across New Jersey.

Choosing against having non-vaccinated individuals at your party doesn't have to come across as judgement of their decision, said Roslyn Rolan, owner of The Image and Etiquette Institute of New Jersey. People should understand, she said, that the decision is meant to protect the party as a whole, including any elderly or high-risk individuals who are protected against the virus.

"Etiquette is two-thirds courtesy and one-third common sense," Rolan said.

Rolan offered the following lines for folks who are dreading the conversation:

  • "This is something that hurts me to have to say to you, because you know we have a very close relationship, but I have to protect everyone that's going to come."
  • "We're still in a pandemic and we want to be sure that we're providing a safe environment."
  • "As much as I want you here, if you're not vaccinated, I don't think it's wise for you to be here."
  • "I don't want you to be upset, but I have to draw a line in the sand here. I'm looking out for the safety of everyone that's going to be attending."

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