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A Doctor Weighs In As Families Discuss Thanksgiving Plans And COVID-19 Risk

Face protection mask and travel documents over trolley bag. Travel and flight rules during coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Getty Images)
Face protection mask and travel documents over trolley bag. Travel and flight rules during coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Getty Images)

Many families are starting to have tough conversations about whether or not to gather together for Thanksgiving amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Thanksgiving weekend is usually one of the busiest travel holidays in the U.S. But this year, Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging families to scale back their holiday plans.

"It is unfortunate because that's such a sacred part of American tradition — the family gathering around Thanksgiving," Fauci told CBS Evening News last week. "But that is a risk."

Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, says transmission between family members is high because we tend to be maskless and congregate in indoor common spaces.

Earlier this month, Dr. Deborah Birx warned that COVID-19 transmission is different than in the spring as people move indoors, humidity drops and respiratory droplets stay in the air longer.

Birx added that in Utah, public health officials traced 80% of coronavirus infections to small gatherings where "people let down their guard," The CT Mirror reports.

Seeing family members outside of your bubble may appear safe because they are people you are familiar with, he says. But that doesn't mean you should get too comfortable, he says.

"People are going to be getting together with people that they feel comfortable with when the reality is there could be transmission happening," he says.

And even if you all live under one roof, COVID-19 transmission is still possible. For example, del Rio says he and his wife live together but work at different hospitals, thus risk of infection persists in their bubble.

For travel, flying "may be pretty safe," he says, because of the cleaning measures airlines are taking. Many airlines are filtering the air and making masks mandatory, he says.

What may be "a little more challenging" is the pre-boarding process, he says, such as taking a taxi or ride-share to the airport, security lines and just being in the airport.

If you plan to gather for the holidays, he says to keep it to less than 10 people and try to make sure everyone is healthy. It's okay to share food, he says, but keep social distancing in effect while eating. Avoid hugging and being in close proximity, he advises.

And if you can, get a coronavirus test beforehand, he says.

"If you can get people tested, I think that’s useful," he says. "But again, remember, a test helps you identify who’s infected, not necessarily who’s not."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidance on holiday gatherings and what Americans need to do to stay safe while traveling, hosting or attending a Thanksgiving get-together.

Del Rio says the CDC's precautions, such as correctly wearing a face mask and social distancing, during travel and gathering can be taken to lessen the risk.


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.