Dr. Nicole Saphier: Coronavirus and Thanksgiving — here’s medical advice for safe holidays

Dr. Nicole Saphier: Coronavirus and Thanksgiving — here’s medical advice for safe holidays

 

PROGRAMMING ALERT: Watch Dr. Nicole Saphier discuss this topic and more on “Fox &  Friends First” at 5:30 a.m. EST on Friday Nov. 20 on Fox News Channel.

 This holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving, will, unfortunately, be unlike any we have ever experienced. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials and health care professionals issued warnings Thursday urging us to either cancel or strictly limit our holiday gatherings.

End-of-year holiday celebrations are a time of being thankful and spending time with family and friends. But sadly, new cases of COVID-19 are rising throughout the entire country. So officials are once again calling for measures they believe will help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged Thursday that virtually connecting with family and friends — rather than gathering together to share a festive meal — is the safest way to celebrate the holidays this year. At the same time, the CDC posted additional recommendations for people choosing to gather with people outside of their own households. Keep reading to see these measures and more.

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Also on Thursday, medical and health organizations issued a joint letter saying they “strongly urge everyone throughout our country to celebrate responsibly, in a scaled-back fashion that limits the virus’s spread, to help reduce the risk of infecting friends, family and others you love.” The letter came from the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association. 

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In numerous states, children have either not gone back to in-person learning or are now being removed from their classrooms to start remote learning. In some regions, restaurants and bars are being forced stop indoor service by 10 p.m. Even gyms are being told to close early.   

Further, because some superspreading events are being linked to in-home social gatherings, many states are taking their mandates further and telling residents how many visitors are allowed in a home.

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Some states are even expanding mask-wearing. For example, in Pennsylvania masks are now required indoors wherever people from different households are gathered, including in homes, despite distancing measuring being taken. 

Unfortunately, there is little uniformity across the country regarding the restrictions, with arbitrary limits being set by each state. 

All the while, governors claim to “follow the science” — yet some neglect following the very rules they impose, creating resentment and distrust.

While we have seen this play out many times throughout the coronavirus crisis, the most recent example of the “do what I say, not what I do” behavior by politicians is highlighted by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The Democratic governor recently attended a birthday party at a restaurant attended by about a dozen people, with more than three households gathering, and without mask-wearing and physical distancing measures. This was a combination that appeared to be in direct violation of his own “mandatory rules for private gatherings” that he expects millions of Californians to adhere to.

While this is an egregious example of why Americans are more hesitant to adhere to the restrictions this time around, a more frequent occurrence of using arbitrary terms regarding curfews, gyms, dining spaces and at-home gatherings has also contributed to doubt and outright refusal to comply. 

As if people weren’t frustrated enough, less than two weeks before Thanksgiving the New York and New Jersey governors told their residents they are not able to have more than 10 people inside their home at any given time.

The truth is that risk reduction is not black and white; it’s fluid with many variables in play. So simply setting a limit on the number of people coming to your home for Thanksgiving or another occasion — without taking these variables into account — does not actually “follow the science.”

For example, even a gathering of less than 10 people from more than one household not taking any safety measures is much riskier than a larger gathering of people who are physically distancing and handwashing frequently.

While having the government telling us who we can welcome into our homes can be unsettling, this comes on the heels of a recent poll conducted by Ohio State University that gave some disconcerting insight into how people are planning to spend their Thanksgiving.

The survey found that 38% of Americans say they are likely to participate in gatherings of more than 10 family members this holiday season, with 27% saying they don’t plan on distancing during their celebration.

However, the most striking finding for me was that 20% of respondents said they would not turn away guests who have symptoms of a viral infection. This is an obvious indicator that some people are throwing common sense out the window from frustration and perhaps newly acquired indifference. 

Look, we are ALL mentally (and some physically) exhausted from the pandemic. But as we surpass 250,000 COVID-related deaths since March, along with widespread viral transmission and rising hospitalizations, we should all pause and rethink our traditional celebrations.

We all want to keep our families safe and at this point we have a good idea how to do it. As individuals, we can balance our freedoms while mitigating risk of spreading the coronavirus to someone vulnerable.

All it takes is utilizing the knowledge we have acquired over the last nine months to lessen the spread. Good judgement will allow us to safely celebrate our holidays without sacrificing our freedoms. 

Ultimately, each household will have to determine an acceptable level of risk in celebrating Thanksgiving and other holidays. But it’s not just about protecting our own families. Every person who gets infected at the holiday dinner table can then go and infect at least another one or two people later. The domino effect eventually reaches someone vulnerable who may end up in the hospital, or even die.

Common sense tells us that the lowest risk of bringing the virus to the dinner table this holiday season is having a meal with only members of a single household, while virtually connecting with others.

A slightly higher risk scenario would be for two households to gather together. Of course, the more households that come together, the more variables are introduced, increasing the risk of transmission. Some of this risk could be mitigated by moving the dinner outdoors, or in a large indoor space with ample ventilation and space between each person.

The highest risk situation is having multiple households together indoors with family-style servings and without any form of distancing or mask-wearing.

For people who insist on having a larger gathering with multiple households, it would be a good idea to ask everyone to limit outside social interactions and self-quarantine as much as possible the week before Thanksgiving to help lower the chance of an infected person coming to the get-together.

The next few months will be challenging as we await vaccine distribution, but we have the power to control the spread of the coronavirus in our communities until they come.

If possible, people should even get tested for COVID-19 a few days before. If there are high-risk individuals in the group, whether from chronic illness or because they are 65 or older, they should strongly consider wearing a mask and physically distancing as much as possible.  

If you do gather with people outside your own household, here are a few straightforward suggestions to have a safe Thanksgiving and other holidays:

1 — Minimize the number of households coming together. 

2 — Have separate households bring their own food or use their own serving utensils.

3 —Avoid interstate travel.

4 — If having dinner indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.

5 — Limit or avoid alcoholic beverages, because increased alcohol consumption often leads to less adherence of other protective measures.

6 — Wash hands, physically distance as much as you can and consider having people wear masks while not eating.

7 — If someone has symptoms of a viral infection or has recently (less than two weeks) recovered from COVID-19, ask him or her to stay home and virtually connect.

Here are additional recommendations from the CDC for people choosing to gather with those outside of their own household:

8 — Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.

9 — Limit the number of guests to just a small group.

10 — Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.

11— Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.

12 — If celebrating indoors, bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors, if possible. You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window. This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows

13 — Limit the number of people in food-preparation areas.

14 — Ask guests to bring their own food and drinks.

15— If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

The CDC also discourages traveling for the holiday and recommends wearing a mask and staying six feet apart when around people who don’t live with you. 

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As a reminder, a mask with two or three layers is better than a single layer or gator. Also, properly wearing masks means securely covering the nose and chin.

Our individual behaviors affect the collective group. Just as we don’t hesitate to ask people not to smoke cigarettes or cigars in our house and not to wear muddy shoes on the carpet, we have to be comfortable asking people to act responsibly so they don’t bring the coronavirus into our homes. If they truly want to spend time with you, they will do what is necessary to keep you and your household safe.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Highly effective vaccines are nearly here in record-breaking time. The next few months will be challenging as we await vaccine distribution, but we have the power to control the spread of the coronavirus in our communities until they come.

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So, here we are again. I know you are tired. So am I. 

I also know we can take precautions a little longer. I am willing to do what I can to lessen the spread of COVID-19 to save lives and prevent hospitalizations, to enable my kids to remain in school, and to allow businesses to stay open and keep their workers employed. Are you?

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