The U.S. is in the midst of a coronavirus uptick, with more than 50,000 new cases a day over the last week, as CNBC reported. Small indoor gatherings seem partially to blame, according to virologist and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield, M.D.
“In the public square, we’re seeing a higher degree of vigilance and mitigation steps in many jurisdictions,” he said during a call with U.S. governors on October 13 in audio obtained by CNN. “But what we’re seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings.”
Dr. Redfield seemed concerned with the upcoming holiday season, especially Thanksgiving, and stressed that state leaders need to emphasize just how important “vigilance” is in preventing COVID-19 spread through household gatherings.
In fact, some doctors are already warning people that, unless weather permits for an outdoor and distanced Thanksgiving, people should find a way to gather that doesn’t put individuals from different households around the same table.
“The consequences of this virus, particularly for older folks—the people that we really want to gather with on Thanksgiving—can be really dire,” Jonathan Reiner, M.D., a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday. “And frankly, I’d rather do a Zoom Thanksgiving with people that I love than expose them to something that might kill them.”
The CDC updated their guidance for holiday gatherings in mid-October, saying that anyone who has COVID-19 or has been exposed to it in the past 14 days should absolutely not attend a holiday gathering. That includes people who tested positive and haven’t yet met criteria for when it’s safe to come out of quarantine, people waiting on results from a COVID-19 test, or people with symptoms of COVID-19 like a fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
People at risk for severe illness should either skip in-person holiday gatherings altogether, the CDC advises, or choose a gathering option that is low-risk. Honestly, given the rampant state of COVID-19 spread in the U.S., even those of us who aren’t at risk for severe illness should be lowering our risk of getting or transmitting this infection.
To lower the risk of holiday gatherings, the CDC provides several recommendations, including:
Avoiding indoor gatherings by hosting activities outdoors (which can of course be tough depending on the weather where you are)
Opening windows to improve ventilation if an outdoor gathering isn’t possible
Maintaining a six-foot distance from people you don’t live with, especially when eating and in spots where it’s normal to congregate, like near the restroom
Only inviting people from your local area
Limiting the number of attendees
Encouraging (and perhaps even providing) masks and hand sanitizer among guests
Asking guests to avoid contact with other people for 14 days before the event
These changes to the holiday season are understandably heartbreaking. At a time when so many of us are already feeling incredibly isolated from our loved ones, having to be apart or adopt a strange new routine feels pretty awful. But it’s still necessary to take these steps. More than 216,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus. Although our devastating and frustrating government response has contributed to many of these deaths, it’s still critical for us as individuals to take every step we can to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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