The holiday season is officially here, but COVID-19 and other viruses are still in the air.

Many people gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays throughout December, but the last two years have been different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The last couple years, we spent just family. That’s it; very small-knit group of people,” said Ronnie Rebis of Saugerties.

As Rebis decorates her home, she’s said she is excited to be able to expand her festivities this holiday season. She said she’ll be attending more parties with friends rather than just sticking with close relatives.

“We’ve been experienced with COVID, unfortunately, a couple times, so we’re not nervous anymore,” she said. 

Although the trifecta of COVID-19, the flu and RSV are going around, Dr. Neal Smoller, holistic pharmacist and owner of Village Apothecary in Woodstock, said people shouldn’t be worried about celebrating the holidays together this year.

“I’ve been an advocate of living our lives, living alongside these viruses, because that’s really our only option at this point, since the start of this thing. We have access to the tools and the treatments, so let’s utilize them, and yes, let’s socialize,” Smoller said.

Smoller suggests making sure you are up to date with the flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster.

“Vaccines are more important than ever this year. We have a population that’s grown weary of COVID and as a result, the booster uptake this year has been pitiful. A very low percentage of people have gotten boosters, so getting that individual protection and getting boosted is more important than any other point in the pandemic because now there’s more people that will risk spreading it to you,” Smoller said.

Smoller said you should use extra caution if you are vulnerable to COVID or going to be around people who are.

“Start testing about a week prior to the holiday or event they want to participate in, especially when there’s such a large gathering,” Smoller said. “Every other day, test, and then test on the day itself, and that’ll give you a really good idea of your actual risk.”

Rebis said she knows some people are still nervous about getting sick, so she does what she can to make them feel comfortable.

“I always ask people, ‘can I hug you?’ ‘Cause if you go in and the person’s like ‘no,’ it’s a little strange still with some people, but everyone has their comfort level, and just respect them,” Rebis said.