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Turning the Tide Against COVID-19 During Thanksgiving

What we all need to think of before the holiday

Wouter Rietsema, MD, Vice President Population Health and Information Services, AHMC & CVPH

COVID-19 is spreading faster and wider in our region than we have seen before. And, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, this opportunistic virus is ready to take a stronger grip on our community if we are not careful.

Many of us are thinking about spending time with family and friends we have not seen in person for a long time due to the pandemic. Thanksgiving traditionally brings our loved ones together to watch football, catch up with each other and share a meal.

It seems harmless enough, because we know these people. We trust them. We care about them, and they care about us.

Your Thanksgiving: The next superspreader event

We know gatherings lead to community spread. While we tend to focus on crowds and distancing ourselves from people we don’t know, it is critical to understand that even small gatherings during the holiday present serious risk and can lead to more infections.

More infections mean a spike in hospitalizations, putting us in the same precarious situation we faced in the spring: our health care system becoming overwhelmed, leading to a shut down in some services and leaving the health of many at risk.

Keith Collins, MD, an infectious disease expert at CVPH, has pointed out numerous times that fighting COVID-19 is no easy task.

“We don’t really have great treatments, yet,” Dr. Collins reminds us. “The ones we do have available are, at best, modestly effective. People across the country are still dying, and more will die with this surge.”

Help may soon be on the way in the form of effective vaccines. But they are not a done deal, and any vaccine is still months away for most of us. Many can get sick – even die - between now and then.

In the meantime, we have the power to protect ourselves. We flattened the curve and kept it there during the spring and summer by wearing our masks, keeping our distance and washing our hands more frequently.

What worked in April still works now

And our confidence is stronger than ever because of what we have learned since the pandemic began. With every passing day, we learn more about how COVID-19 spreads and what we can do to slow it down.

That is why we cannot treat this upcoming Thanksgiving like any other year. The holiday presents this virus with another opportunity to grow and multiply. It also offers each of us the chance to prevent that.

Please limit your gatherings for the holiday. Keep them to your immediate nuclear family as much as possible. Take part in virtual meals with your extended family and friends.

My wife and I originally planned to host our 3 adult children and 2 significant others coming from around the country. Now, with the virus rapidly spreading across the country, just one of our adult children is driving home (instead of flying) to reduce the traveling risk. He is also following strict social distancing guidelines and will get tested (and know his results) before arriving at our home. We trimmed a relatively small gathering of 7 down to a safer gathering of 3.

While it is not the Thanksgiving we hoped for, these steps significantly increase the chances that we can be together in person, with no empty chairs, next year.

Every member of this community is tired of the pandemic, the isolation and all of the hurt and fear we are facing every day. Wars are lost, not won, if one side gets “tired” of fighting. Now is the time to double down. 

And if there is one thing to be thankful about this year, we know what steps we can take to minimize the risk, protect our loved ones and stop the spread of COVID.