After months of isolation and quarantine, many hoped that Covid-19 would be under control by the holiday season so families could reunite. As Thanksgiving approaches, that hope feels like a distant memory as daily cases reach record highs in the United States. Caution must hold precedence over anything else as families question whether to gather in the coming weeks. We must set aside traditions for everyone’s safety.
November of 2019 may seem like a lifetime ago, but examining the traditional thanksgiving dinner of yesteryear exposes the dangers such an event could hold in a pandemic. Events may range from ten to twenty or more family members. Caution lights should already be going off in your head. Avoiding large gatherings is one of the keys to fighting against the viral spread. Gathering a couple dozen family members in a single location exacerbates the danger of contraction for all in attendance.
Of those couple dozen, odds are that many of them are from out-of-town. In 2019, 55.3 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving. Midwestern states like Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. are experiencing positive case rates of nearly one hundred per hundred thousand, or more than double the national average. A cousin from Iowa visiting a family in Vermont puts the Vermonters at enormous risk. Traveling by train, car, and bus can also expose the traveler to a risk of infection. Visitors from just the town over can be just as dangerous as the cousin traveling across the country. This helpful map demonstrates the risk of large gatherings by county. Avoid having visitors from counties in red, to be blunt.
The greatest risk is the main indoor activity: eating and sharing the same indoor space. The virus spreads through droplets and aerosols in the air that we release when we cough, sneeze, talk, or even breathe. This is why masks are effective; they block these droplets from spreading. This is why restaurants and bars are Covid-19 infection hotspots. People cannot wear masks when eating and drinking. Hosting a Thanksgiving get-together is akin to eating at a downtown restaurant, which several states and countries recommend against or even ban.
Besides N95s, most masks do not even stop aerosols, which may hang in the air of poorly ventilated indoor spaces for hours. Masks also do not stop infection through the eyes via droplets or aerosols. The virus is also transmitted by touching surfaces on which droplets have landed and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands. The risks of even a masked Thanksgiving event are still present and significant.
A new national survey from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds that many are planning to recognize these risks and take necessary precautions in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, two in five Americans report they will attend a gathering of more than ten people and one in three will not ask guests to wear masks. This fraction of Thanksgiving celebrations will further Covid-19 transmission across the country. If someone in your household plans to attend one of these events, please convince them otherwise.
Outside skipping the holiday this year altogether, public health experts recommend families keep it quaint this year. Limit attendance as much as possible; convince out-of-town folks to stay home; wear masks as much as possible; and remain outside. The CDC has released holiday guidelines for those keeping their gathering Covid-19 safe. Taking precautions does not mean be sad and lonely this holiday season. Spend time with those in your household; hold a virtual Thanksgiving with friends and family; reminisce on the time before Covid-19 and dream about the time after.
The harsh reality of Covid-19 is that things are only going to get worse in the immediate future. A vaccine will not be available for months. Public health experts theorize that colder temperatures will force people inside closed spaces, where the virus spreads more effectively. Europe is headed back into lockdown to get their cases under control. The dangers are simply too high to be hosting large scale get-togethers centered around eating.
Safety and caution this holiday season will help everyone return to normal for the next holiday season. Everyone is struggling to cope with isolation and loneliness. Despite the virus separating us, we are all together in the fight to defeat it. For this Thanksgiving: stay home, stay safe, and next Thanksgiving will be all the better.