Those who normally travel for the Thanksgiving holiday are being urged to stay home this year. That’s the word from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where Dr. Henry Walke is COVID-19 incident manager.
“As a country we are seeing increases in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths because of COVID-19,” Walke told a teleconference of media. “And we know that you are as alarmed as we are by the rapid spread of COVID-19 across American communities.”
Walke calls the coronavirus a “formidable foe” and that Americans should not let down their guard, especially in the midst of this latest surge.
“Right now, we’re alarmed, again, with the exponential increase in cases and hospitalists and death, said Walke. “Amidst this critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period.”
The CDC is recommending a “down-home” Turkey Day, rather than visiting friends and family as COVID-19 cases continue to surge. Millions of people are currently infected — many of whom are not showing symptoms and don't know they’re contagious.
“For Americans who decide to travel, CDC recommends doing so as safely as possible, by following the same recommendations for everyday living; wear a mask in public settings [such as] public transportation. Watch distance by staying 6 feet away from others not from the same household, and wash your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer.”
“Household” as defined by the CDC as “people who have been living in the same home for at least 14 days before celebrations.”
The pandemic and related health and economic concerns are already keeping some Americans off the road for the holiday weekend. Mark Jenkins at AAA South in Tampa projects 50 million people will travel, including 2.8 million in Florida.
“That’s about 10% lower than last Thanksgiving nationwide; here in Florida, we’re expecting about 5% fewer people,” said Jenkins. “We’ve seen cases of coronavirus increase, so it’s a good chance that we may see even fewer Americans traveling this Thanksgiving than originally forecast.”
The auto club is also predicting about 50% fewer air travelers this year. A lot of that, says Jenkins, is from people who are leery of flying during the pandemic.
“It’s not just any kind of work the airlines are doing to reduce the chances of a spread aboard the plane, but you also have to consider that it can be somewhat of a challenge to social distance,” Jenkins said. “And the airports themselves – if you’re in a check-in line, security checkpoint, things like that.”
If you’re planning to fly to your destination, Jenkins reminds us that airlines have their own rules and mandates in place.
“A lot of airlines are requiring people to wear face masks through all of their on-boards; but when you’re traveling anywhere I think it’s especially important just to take any precaution possible to protect yourself and others,” said Jenkins.
But if you’re staying home, it’s just as important to be as safe there as on the road or in the air.
“Don’t compromise when you have your family over, or if you do have an event this year; obviously, everyone’s been under a lot of stress, and certainly family gatherings would help with that,” said Dr. Paul Glisson, chief medical officer at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. “But just don’t compromise on the maskings and hand-washings.”
He also advises to be very clear with those invited to your house.
“I would ask them up front if they’re having any symptoms, or if they’ve been exposed to anyone having symptoms, or if they’re waiting for a test result,” said Glisson. “It’s probably not a good idea to come and mix with your family, and put everybody else at risk. So ask those questions up front and just let them know you’re not going to compromise on safety for that.”
And as if the pandemic isn’t enough, Glasson says more people are just sick this time of year. He and Ascension-Sacred Heart’s emergency medical director, Dr. Peter Jennings, share data on emergency cases.
“I can tell you that both Sacred Heart and Baptist right now, our hospitals are at capacity; emergency departments are seeing record numbers of people,” said Glisson.
“A lot of patients are having to [wait] in the emergency department while we wait for beds to become available upstairs. Not all of that is COVID, but COVID patients take up an increasing bandwidth of our attention.”
If there are older, or elderly people in the house, then special care must be taken in what Glisson calls “managing the risk.”
“For not only their risk of exposure, but the risk of having a more serious complication from getting a COVID-19 infection is higher for them,” Glasson said. “I think a lot of them have been isolated from different exposures throughout the community, by nature. But I think there are more tempted to want to share some time with family. So there is risk inherent with that as well.”
And be sure to keep the guidelines for protecting against COVID-19 handy. After Thanksgiving there are four other holidays this season – Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day.