By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Just Stay Home

Keep This Year’s Thanksgiving Celebration Inside Your Household Bubble

The best and safest thing to do for Thanksgiving this year is to have a gathering only of those in your household bubble – i.e., the people you live with. 

“That may not be what people want to hear, but it's the safest thing to do,” says Walter Dehority, MD, an infectious disease expert and associate professor in the UNM Departments of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine.

Since the early days of the pandemic, we’ve seen a couple of spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases after holidays, such as Memorial Day. But with a recent spike in cases, cooler weather and Thanksgiving just days away, we’re at a tenuous point, he says.

“When you bring in someone from outside that bubble, be it a neighbor, a friend or relatives … you're inviting the possibility there could be virus from them, and then all of their contacts,” Dehority says. 

“So if a neighbor works as a clerk at Costco and your brother lives across town and works as a nurse at a doctor's office, all of those contacts that those people have are then coming into your house as well. So you may actually be having Thanksgiving not with 10 friends and relatives, but with a couple hundred people, if you think about the contacts they've had.”

As a pediatrician, Doherity sees children whose families have questions about getting together with loved ones this time of year versus over the spring and summertime holidays.

“The difference now is this is the next major holiday and it's now occurring during colder weather, when people are more likely to have to be indoors, which facilitates the spread of the virus,” he says. Not surprisingly, the numbers of COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in recent days.

Dehority has heard questions from families about gathering with people who aren’t showing any symptoms. who’ve been tested for COVID-19.

Families have asked him, “What if I invite people over who aren’t showing any symptoms?”

Dehority thinks that’s a bad idea. “The problem with that approach is that you can be asymptomatic and still have the virus and be infectious,” he says. “Not everybody with COVID actually has symptoms.”

Here’s another question that comes up frequently: “What if we all get COVID tests before we get together?” Dehority says testing offers a false sense of security.  “One problem with that approach is that you can have false-negative COVID test, particularly in the first few days of the illness,” he says. “So even if you got tested on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and then show up on Thursday, you might still have COVID and bring that into the house. I think for all those reasons, in addition to the skyrocketing numbers we're seeing, the safest thing is to try to have a household Thanksgiving.”

As an alternative, consider using FaceTime or Zoom to share Thanksgiving with your family and friends, he suggests.

Dehority says it’s important to remember that even though we have been living with the virus for many months, we must to stay vigilant in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Just this week there’s been hopeful news that a vaccine could be available for distribution in a month or so, he says.

“Now, it's like you're on Mile 22 of the marathon and you want to drop out because you have shin splints, and it's kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh, we've made it through seven months of the pandemic,’” Dehority says. “Hang on and push a little bit longer through these hard times, and it may be worth it.”

Despite advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to gather safely (stand six feet apart, wear a mask, use a touchless trash can, etc.), those guidelines shouldn’t be viewed as an excuse to throw a large dinner party, Dehority says.

It might help to think of staying home this Thanksgiving as an investment in the future, keeping loved ones healthy so that you can celebrate with them next November, he says. 

“I think that's a good way to look at that, particularly for folks in families that might be medically vulnerable, such as those who are older or have medical conditions,” Dehority says.


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