Your Thanksgiving Plans Aren’t Worth the Risk

Rozalynn S. Frazier
·6 min read

From Men's Health

You’d think that the convergence of rising COVID-19 cases and Thanksgiving celebrations would make people put the kibosh on plans to get together with the whole gang this year. Not so.

According to a just-released Ohio State University survey, nearly 40 percent—that’s two in five people—report they will likely attend a gathering with more than 10 people, and 33 percent of folks will not ask their guests to don masks.

Also according to the latest statistics, there are currently 11.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States and almost 250,000 deaths. “We are seeing close to 150,000 cases and over 1,200 deaths daily across the entire country and the number of cases and deaths are not going down but up,” says Dr. Rashid A. Chotani, MD, an infectious disease and biodefense expert and medical director and senior scientist at IEM in Morrisville, NC. “At this rate, we are expecting over 18 million cases and 300,000 deaths by the end of the year.”

The convergence of rising cases and plans to get together in large groups? Let’s be clear: This is not only problematic, but makes this year’s Thanksgiving holiday a potential super spreader event. “As we look at what’s developing as far as this surge in COVID-19 cases country wide, we know that this is going to have a huge impact on thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives,” explains Iahn Gonsenhauser, MD, MBA, a physician and chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “It will result in people who have long-standing health complications as a result of contracting COVID-19, and in some cases, will lead people to lose their lives.”

Why large groups are so COVID-dangerous

The reason these gatherings are in issue: People believe that they and those they are connecting with are “being safe.” But safe is a relative term. “The average person has about 10 casual contacts, so if you invite three people into your home that haven’t been there previously, you are really inviting all of their personal contacts into your home as well,” says Dr. Gonsenhauser. Translation: Their personal contacts are now your personal contacts. Then there is the fact that “as the amount of time spent with these persons increases, so does your exposure time,” says Robin Lowman White, MD, a board certified emergency medicine physician based in Atlanta, GA.

For Marc S. Rabinowitz MD, founder of Prevention First Healthcare in Southampton, PA, who himself had COVID-19, many of his patients who have tested positive have traced the source of their infection back to gatherings of multiple people who were not wearing masks. This makes sense to Dr. Gonsenhauser, who notes that through “the information gleaned from contact tracing and the work done to understand the spread of COVID, it is known that communal dining situations are very high on the list for moments that have resulted in community spread of this disease. Thanksgiving dinner is exactly one of these moments.”

How to help curb the COVID-19 crisis, starting with Thanksgiving

Still, people are going to gather. That means you have to take steps to protect yourself and others. A good first step: getting a COVID-19 test—that is, if you do it properly and if you still use social distancing and masks at the event.

It’s not a guarantee of a safe gathering, though. There is a window of opportunity between getting a negative test and going to family events where exposure is possible says Leo Nissola, MD, a physician, scientist, and researcher focused on advanced-stage cancers with the immune system, COVID-19 and other immunodeficiencies. “To be very thorough, you need multiple tests before getting together,” says Dr. Gonsenhauser.

Not an option? Dr. Gonsenhauser says that potential partygoers should quarantine at least the week prior to a test to help ensure there is no exposure and then following the test, remain in quarantine until your event. “If all of those tests are negative and all of those precautions are followed, they will reduce your risk of having a potential transmitter in your party.”

Remember, though, we’ve seen some inconsistencies with tests results. Plus, “a negative COVID-19 test just means that you do not have enough virus in your nasal passage at the time to be positive,” explains Dr. White. “You can still be carrying the virus and be contagious.”

If you’re not going to take experts’ advice and avoid in-person gatherings, which Dr. Gonsenhauser says is his first, second, and third recommendation, let us first remind you of the basics that everyone should know by now: maximize mask use, have hand sanitizer on hand (and use it), and stay six feet apart at all times.

Dr. Gonsenhauser says it’s doubly important to remain vigilant as your holiday celebration progresses. “It’s very easy after people have had a big dinner and a few glasses of wine to start relaxing their precautions, and that’s when you really risk significant increase in COVID-19 spread.”

Make things a little safer

Next, follow these three suggestions to help lessen the possibility of catching this sometimes deadly virus.

Party outdoors

That’s right, take it outside. “Consider doing the driveway holiday,” says Dr. Gonsenhauser. That means spend some QT in the front yard or driveway with your loved ones. And once you’ve had a brief moment of fellowship, “everybody can head to their respective homes to have their single-home dinner.”

If it’s not possible to have a meal or appetizers or drinks outdoors, “eat in different areas in the home with only those family members that live in your home,” Dr. White says. Adds Dr. Gonsenhauser: “Try to avoid passing plates and communal shared dining, and only serve family style at your specific table to avoid cross contamination.”

Separate yourselves

If you’re socializing, do it while six feet apart, wearing masks as well as face shields, recommends Dr. White, who says that large gatherings often decreases the amount of distance that you have between one another.

Have good ventilation

If you are indoors, focus on ventilation, bringing as much fresh air as possible into the room. And try to exhaust air from between tables, out of the room, and away from any individuals, says Dr. Gonsenhauser. You don’t want to blow air on any individual.

The bottom line: We’re all tired of COVID-19 and its potential danger as well as the isolation and inability to spend time with loved ones that comes with it. “We have been fighting this for eight months,” Dr. Gonsenhauser says. “Most of us have made a lot of sacrifices and compromises in our life and everybody is looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. So, I understand where people are emotionally and why it’s difficult, but at the same time it’s a very worthy cause. No one wants this to be the last holiday they have with a beloved family member because they weren’t willing to take some precautions at Thanksgiving.”

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