Holding her 9-month-old son, Oliver, Kate Torrey talks with older son Isaac and partner Lindsay in their kitchen at their home in Clearview. Like many families last year, the Torreys skipped the usual Thanksgiving get-together. This year will be the first time some family members get to meet her new baby. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Holding her 9-month-old son, Oliver, Kate Torrey talks with older son Isaac and partner Lindsay in their kitchen at their home in Clearview. Like many families last year, the Torreys skipped the usual Thanksgiving get-together. This year will be the first time some family members get to meet her new baby. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Thanks to vaccines, Thanksgiving 2021 is closer to normal

Last year, we were told to stick to immediate households. This year’s holiday is cautiously more open.

CLEARVIEW — Kate Torrey kept her family home last year on Thanksgiving. They were careful throughout the pandemic, especially when Torrey became pregnant with baby Oliver.

It’s been 20 months of virtually no gatherings. But on Thursday, the Clearview family will head to Auburn to celebrate the holiday with fully vaccinated extended family. Ten-year-old Isaac will make his famous gravy. Kate is most excited to see her aunt.

“This will be her first time meeting our 9-month-old, and his first time being around more than two adults from outside our home,” Torrey told The Daily Herald.

The gathering is still smaller than a normal Thanksgiving, she said. But the long-overdue family event is a welcome return to normalcy.

That’s the case with many families across Washington. Leading up to the holiday season last year, Gov. Jay Inslee imposed sweeping restrictions on indoor gatherings. Health officials urged people to celebrate only with their immediate household, and COVID-19 tests were largely limited to those with symptoms.

Now, shots mean health officials are giving the OK on some get-togethers. But not without some caveats.

“Holiday traditions are important to us all, especially after the long, long time everyone’s been going through the pandemic,” Snohomish Health District officer Dr. Chris Spitters said this week. “… Getting together with families and friends can help us all out. We just encourage you to do so wisely.”

Kate Torrey plays with her sons, 9-month-old Oliver and older son Isaac, in their living room in Clearview. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kate Torrey plays with her sons, 9-month-old Oliver and older son Isaac, in their living room in Clearview. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

County and state health officials have a consistent message for this holiday season:

• Small gatherings with fully vaccinated guests are safest.

• Wear masks, especially in large indoor gatherings with people outside your household.

• Take stock of who’s coming, to protect high-risk people including kids too young to get vaccinated.

• If you feel unwell, stay home and get tested.

• If you travel, be aware of the area’s transmission rates and stay vigilant about masking.

• Gathering indoors? Choose a space with good ventilation.

• Get tested before and after you gather or travel. At-home tests can be done the day of an event.

Snohomish County’s case rate is still declining, but progress is slow. The county reported a two-week case rate of 352 per 100,000 people, down from 361 the week prior. There were 1,374 new cases reported in the past week.

“We’d like to see that going down more steeply, but this is where we’re at,” Spitters told reporters Tuesday.

Especially through the holiday season, when people are gathering and staying indoors, the high rate of transmission will likely continue, he said.

Washington’s overall case rate is declining more steadily, although that could change, officials are warning.

“We obviously would like to be optimistic,” Inslee said last week. “In the last month we’ve had a downward trend, but this thing can continue to spring back at us, because we have a very high rate of transmission.”

A spike like that could mean even more pressure on hospitals. Earlier this month, the state Department of Health also flagged a 25% decrease in young kids getting flu shots compared to last year. It’s a concern as influenza and COVID-19 continue to circulate going into winter.

Combined, it means lots of “uncertainties” on the horizon, state Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said.

“Our real concern is just that we do not go backwards,” Shah said.

Snohomish County case rates are as high as they were last November, when new restrictions clamped down across the state. Death rates, on the other hand, have decreased significantly.

“What’s the difference?” Spitters said. “Vaccination.”

This fall, more people are eligible for new or boosted protection against the virus.

Everyone 18 and older is now eligible for a booster dose if it’s been six months since a final Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two months since a Johnson & Johnson shot.

There’s a special emphasis on older adults and those in long-term care homes. High demand means appointments may be booked out a few weeks. About 92,000 locals have gotten a booster or a third dose.

And 16.5% of Snohomish County kids ages 5 to 11 have gotten a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine since they started being doled out earlier this month. Kids under 14 still account for about one-fifth of new local cases.

For the unvaccinated, it’s too late for a shot to protect them in time for Thanksgiving. But getting the vaccine now will make Christmas and New Year’s safer.

For Torrey, shots are the only reason why the family is finally gathering — and the only reason why little Oliver’s first Thanksgiving will look almost normal.

“I know we can still get COVID and potentially give it,” she said, “but the odds are so much lower and the effects so much milder.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; claudia.yaw@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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