What Doctors Are Saying About Holiday Gatherings

Many people are trying to figure out how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely. This holiday could become a national superspreader event since COVID-19 is transmitted by droplets sprayed while talking or breathing heavily in close proximity.

Traveling from one hot spot to another, eating with multigenerational family and friends in close proximity, indoors, for hours could have catastrophic consequences.

The extent of the spread can be curtailed by people taking precautions, said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, MAS, and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UC San Francisco. “We have ways to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during this time when we traditionally get together.”

Keep doing what we’ve already been doing like wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing of at least six feet, and frequent handing washing.

And though it’s impossible to wear a mask while eating and drinking, people should consider keeping the maskless portion of the gathering as brief as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a virtual Thanksgiving or spending the holiday in your home with the people you have been living with for the past two weeks.

“I am recommending to a lot of people to avoid holiday gatherings altogether because, unfortunately, you can’t ensure that people are quarantining as well,” said Dr. Srinivas. “The issue is so many people in the United States don’t quite understand what it means to quarantine and how to do it appropriately.”

“No social gathering can be made entirely safe,” says Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland. “You can make something relatively safe.”

It’s a good idea to make sure everyone who will attend is on the same page about what precautions you will be taking, particularly if there will be attendees who are in higher-risk categories.

Testing beforehand decreases the chance that anyone is bringing the virus into the group, and getting tested afterward is important so that, in the unfortunate circumstance that someone has tested positive for the virus, they can alert others.

Josephine Lau, PhD, an associate professor and graduate chair of architectural engineering at the University of Nebraska Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction who specializes in indoor air quality and ventilation recommends if the weather allows, gatherings be held outside and if staying outside isn’t practical, she suggests opening windows to increase the ventilation in the house.

If you are alone this holiday season consider other activities like online shopping, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, virtual calls with your families, make food for a neighbor and leave it on their doorstep, donate to an organization who needs the help, write down what you’re thankful for and share with loved ones.

We have to acknowledge that the risk is among us, but it’s just as important to recognize that we have the power to keep ourselves and others safe by making smart choices during the holidays.

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