CDC warns against Thanksgiving travel, but poll says nearly 2 in 5 Americans may attend large holiday gatherings

The agency has advised against gathering with anyone who has not lived in the same household for at least 14 days


                            CDC warns against Thanksgiving travel, but poll says nearly 2 in 5 Americans may attend large holiday gatherings
(Getty Images)

As coronavirus cases soar in the US, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, warning that doing so may increase their chance of getting and spreading Covid-19. However, nearly 40% in the US said they will likely attend a holiday gathering with more than 10 people and a third will not ask guests to wear masks. This is according to a national survey by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

The study included over 2,000 people and was weighted to reflect the general adult population. The results reveal that while a majority of Americans plan to take precautions at holiday gatherings, such as social distancing, and asking those with coronavirus symptoms not to attend, many will also put themselves at risk. Nearly two in five plan in-person gatherings with over 10 people. Among other findings, 82% will ask attendees who have symptoms of Covid-19 not to come to holiday celebrations, 79% will celebrate with household members only, and 73% will follow social distancing guidelines.

“We’re going to look back at what happened during this holiday season and ask ourselves, ‘Were we part of the solution or were we part of the problem?’ When you’re gathered together around the table, engaged in conversation, sitting less than six feet apart with your masks down, even in a small group, that’s when the spread of this virus can really happen,” cautions Dr Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He adds, “If you have someone in your household who’s high risk and you’re in a low incidence area, you’re going to want to think twice about having a celebration where people are coming from an area where there’s a lot of virus in the community.” 

The findings come even as coronavirus cases continue to increase rapidly across the US. The data as of November 17 shows that the average daily cases are up 43% compared to the previous 7 days, with 94% of US jurisdictions seeing more cases. About 11,465,722 coronavirus infections have been reported to the CDC, including over 165,087 new cases, according to the agency’s Covid-19 tracker, which has been updated till November 19. An estimated 249,670 have died in the coronavirus pandemic, which inlcude over 1,836 new deaths.

About 11,465,722 coronavirus infections have been reported to the CDC as of November 19, including over 165,087 new cases, according to the agency’s Covid-19 tracker (Getty Images)

What did CDC say?

Citing exponential growth in coronavirus infections, the CDC in its latest guidelines says that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people one lives with. It has advised against gathering with anyone who has not lived in the same household for at least 14 days, the incubation period for the coronavirus. 

“Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading Covid-19 or the flu. It’s important to talk with the people you live with and your family and friends about the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year,” it says.

Dr Erin Sauber-Schatz from the CDC elaborates that “people who have not been actively living with you for the 14 days before you are celebrating, are not considered a member of your household.” 

Spikes in Covid-19 numbers occurred after Memorial Day and Labor Day. Thanksgiving is typically the most traveled holiday in the US. The travel advice, however, is a “strong recommendation” for Americans to consider and not a requirement, according to CDC official Dr Henry Walke. “We’re alarmed with the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Covid-19 is turning out to be a formidable foe. Amid this critical phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving holiday.” He further explains, “Right now as we’re seeing this sort of exponential growth in cases, and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another, it leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time.” 

The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people one lives with, suggests the CDC (Getty Images)

Walke notes that what the CDC is concerned about is not just the actual mode of travel, such as an airplane or a bus, but also the transportation hubs where people tend to crowd together in lines or waiting areas. Accordingly, when people gather with family they do not live with, there is a risk of further spreading Covid-19. “One of our concerns is people over the holiday season get together, and they may actually be bringing infection with them to that gathering and not even know it...What’s at stake is basically the increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick, and being hospitalized and dying,” he adds. 

While the experts recommend virtual gatherings, but for those you choose to attend a gathering, the CDC suggests bringing one’s own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils; wearing a mask and safely storing the mask while eating and drinking; avoiding going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen; and using single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Before traveling, the CDC suggests checking travel restrictions and getting the flu shot. It also asks Americans to always wear a mask in public settings and when using public transportation, maintaining six-feet distance and washing hands often.

For people who are planning to host a Thanksgiving gathering, the guidance calls for having a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in the same community, limiting the number of guests, having conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and items between use.

“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. Limit the number of people in food preparation areas and have guests bring their own food and drink. If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils,” it advises.

Celebrate responsibly, urge doctors and nurses

Three major US medical organizations have published an open letter, asking Americans to celebrate safely and responsibly. They explain that the “record-shattering surge underway” is resulting in uncontrolled community spread and infection that has already overburdened health systems in some areas and will “ultimately consume capacity of our health care system” and may reduce the availability of care in many places in the US.

“With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching and a deadly Covid-19 pandemic surging, we – the physicians, nurses, hospital and health system leaders and public health professionals on the front lines of this pandemic – 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,” they stress.

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