SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Easter season is different than 2021, health care experts said.

“We are in a much better place than one Easter ago,” said Dr. Shankar Kurra of Monument Health. “There is more than just optimism. The reality is most of the population of the United States and even here in South Dakota has had an encounter with COVID-19.”

Ninety percent of South Dakotans have antibodies either through vaccination or infection, Kurra said.

The landscape is even different than it was a few weeks ago.

“We’re really in a totally different world in a month or so ago. Cases of COVID in community have really plummeted in the last few weeks,” said Dr. David Basel of Avera Health.

But COVID is still out there and so is influenza.

“Probably the most important thing when you are thinking about Easter gatherings is (to) pay attention to common cold type symptoms,” Basel said.

If someone has those symptoms, he’d recommend getting tested for COVID, Basel said.

Prairie Lakes Healthcare System in Watertown shared a statement about COVID-19 and Easter. The system said it “encourages individuals who are not feeling well to stay home to avoid spreading illness to others.”

Vaccinations and gathering

Vaccinations, hand washing and a face mask remain the top ways to stop the transmission of COVID-19, said Dr. Jeremy Cauwels of Sanford Health.

But, Easter gatherings may involve fully vaccinated individuals and those who may not be vaccinated.

“The discussion really has to base itself on what your overall risk is and the overall risk of the loved ones gonna be around,” Cauwels said.

He used his household and extended family as an example. Those older than 70 are fully vaccinated and have received their second booster and all others are also fully vaccinated, he said.

As long as no one is sick, “We’re not going to do any additional testing,” Cauwels said.

Since the BA2 strain is out there, “If you do have symptoms, get tested. Grab a home test. Make sure you check it before you go visit loved ones,” Cauwels said.

Kurra said testing is a good idea as multi-generations gather for Easter.

“It’s very important as we are approaching another important holiday where families tend to gather be aware that omicron BA 2 is rising; we’re seeing small increases in cases,” Kurra said. “To be absolutely safe and protect vulnerable, by that I mean anyone in family that is 50 years and older or anyone who is 4 years or younger. It’s important too for you to test, especially if traveling to meet family.”

“Vaccination does matter. If everyone’s vaccinated that will be the best situation,” Kurra said. Everyone should have at least the first full course of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said.

He’d urge those over 50 to get the booster if they haven’t in the past four months.

What about wearing a mask?

Family gatherings and the wearing of masks include evaluating risks beforehand, Cauwels said.

All three doctors said those who are older or have underlying conditions are still more vulnerable to COVID-19 than younger or healthier individuals.

If not everyone is vaccinated, families may still choose to gather.

The person who is fully vaccinated may worry about others who aren’t.

“It’s really about having a conversation with those folks and just understanding what they believe to be the risks. If they are comfortable with the risks of everybody getting together, I think you can and do it safely, as long a nobody has symptoms,” Cauwels said.

“It’s all a little bit of a matter of personal comfort,” Basel said. “Vaccinated individuals can pretty safely gather without masks at this time period, especially agree if you all agreeing that if you’ve got any symptoms you don’t show up or get tested beforehand.”

Vaccination reduces the risk for all, Kurra said.

If not all are vaccinated or it’s a mixed group of vaccinated and unvaccinated folks, that’s when it’s important to test and important to wear the mask, Kurra said.

If I choose a test, when should I test

“The tests out there right now, especially ones that commercially available, whether from health care professional or pharmacy, they have all been worked on and do the job very well,” Cauwels said.

Any rapid test will do well, Kurra said.

The three doctors said those who test should test as near the gathering day as possible. They can test the morning of with a 15-minute test or test on the travel day.