Local epidemiologist advises considering these factors before throwing a graduation party


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The 2021 Graduation season is here and the University of Richmond is kicking ceremonies off this weekend. While COVID-19 restrictions have relaxed since last year, health leaders are telling families to think before having a big bash.

While we’re in a better place right now than we were during last year’s graduation season, large gatherings are still not recommended. If you do have a party to celebrate this milestone, health officials say you should keep several things in mind.

“Remember, people are not walking around with ‘I’m vaccinated’ stickers,” said Chtaura Jackson, an epidemiologist who specializes on k-12 education for Richmond and Henrico’s health districts.

She’s worked with both private and public school districts on COVID-19 safety and guidelines and has been helping schools get safe graduation ceremonies planned this spring. Jackson says families should first look at the current number of COVID-19 cases in their community.

“Are we a high burden right now, do we have a high amount of community transmission,” she said.

Families are also told to consider coronavirus cases where guests are coming from, how guests will travel, and the possible virus exposure to them along the way.

“Are they gonna be on planes, are they gonna be on busses?” Jackson said. This is because being in close contact with strangers increases your risk of getting the virus.

Next, Jackson said to closely consider how many people are attending and what fraction will be fully vaccinated.

“If you don’t know if people are unvaccinated, I would assume that they are not vaccinated,” she said.

The epidemiologist acknowledged that enforcing rules like mask wearing at a party can be awkward.

“We’re not out of this. We still are in the high transmission. Vaccination is helping, it is helping, but we need more people to get vaccinated,” she said. “It’s just better to be safe. Yes, it might not be a pleasant conversation to have, but I think it’s an important one to have.”

The risk of contracting COVID-19 also increases as the amount of differing households at the gathering grows, though the CDC now says fully vaccinated people can ditch masks and gather outdoors together in most cases. That new guidance, however, doesn’t apply to unvaccinated people.

Jackson says to consider limiting the length of the gathering. Risk can also grow the longer you spend around people not in your household. As we know, outdoor gatherings are safest.

Last but not least, Jackson said tell your guests: don’t come if you’re feeling sick. Instead, join the party on zoom.

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