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New CDC guidelines could make a family Passover possible

When Passover seders and the family gatherings that often accompany them were scuttled by the COVID-19 pandemic last April, many assumed Jewish gatherings would be back in time for the High Holidays. Instead, coronavirus deaths continued to mount throughout 2020 and the pandemic continues, despite ongoing vaccination efforts.

But new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control released Monday offers the potential for some family gatherings this Passover if you or your relatives have been vaccinated. Here’s what the guidelines say and how they might impact your seder.

You can invite your vaccinated relatives to a seder in your home, or attend one at theirs, so long as all the unvaccinated people in attendance are from a single household and at low-risk of COVID-19. This means that even if everyone in your household is unvaccinated, the CDC has determined that it would be safe to invite your vaccinated grandparents — or aunt, uncle, friend, obscure relative — unless one of the unvaccinated people in your home is at high-risk themselves (think: elderly or with an underlying health condition).

“This move by the CDC represents an important step in the gradual return by all of us to in-person gatherings,” said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, chief of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Conservative movement’s umbrella body. “However, given the small proportion of the population that is so vaccinated, it still limits the ability of our communities to come together much in person.

“But it provides important hope and a reminder to what we can look forward once the population is fully vaccinated.”

But the CDC is continuing to discourage “medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings.” The agency did not say what gathering size is too large for vaccinated people to attend, but the language probably rules out a large synagogue hosting a seder for vaccinated members. The single-household restriction also means that you could not invite your unvaccinated family members from outside your home to attend the seder with your vaccinated relatives. However, people who are vaccinated could attend several seders with different households of unvaccinated people.

Individuals should receive their last vaccine shot by this Saturday in order to attend a first-night seder.

The CDC is also leaving its travel guidance in place, which discourages all travel — including by vaccinated individuals. It is not clear how the travel advice, which includes wearing a mask around friends or family that you stay with, squares with the new guidelines that say vaccinated people do not need to wear masks while indoors with people from another single household.

The definition of a person who is fully vaccinated is also important. People are considered “fully vaccinated” by the CDC only two weeks after receiving their second and final dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That means you or relatives you might want to invite to the seder must receive their last vaccine shot by this Saturday in order to attend a first-night seder on March 27, or by this Sunday in order to attend a second seder on March 28.

Agudath Israel of America, which represents Haredi communities, said it would not be updating its existing COVID-19 guidelines but would alert constituents that, “with Pesach just a few weeks away, individuals may wish to speak with their doctors about what vaccinated people can now safely do,” according to spokeswoman Leah Zagelbaum.

The Union for Reform Judaism said it was still assessing the new guidelines. Reconstructing Judaism and the Orthodox Union, the Modern Orthodox group, did not have an immediate response to the CDC announcement.

While the guidelines offer only a limited return to in-person Jewish life, they were nonetheless celebrated by Jews on social media.

“It means we can invite grandparents who had seder alone last year to join us in our home,” wrote Susanne Rosenhouse, who runs a Jewish lifestyle account on Twitter. “Bubbe time.”

Update:

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