Health experts urge caution on Thanksgiving, lest Turkey Day become the ‘Grinch that steals Christmas’

Health experts advise how to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at Thanksgiving

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Preparations are underway for what many consider to be the official kickoff of the holiday season: Thanksgiving.

However, the holiday presents unique risks when it comes to navigating the coronavirus pandemic, and health experts are urging the public to keep precautions just as top of mind as the side dishes.

“The real concern is that people tend to drop their guard when they’re with family, or close friends as people do at Thanksgiving,” said Dr. Paul Kamitsuka, chief epidemiologist at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. “And the reality is that anybody who’s outside your immediate household, if you get together with them, everybody has to mask and you have to distance.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending having no more than 10 people at Thanksgiving gatherings, and Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order limiting gatherings to that number in the state of North Carolina.

Thanksgiving and other late fall and winter holidays pose greater risks than their summertime counterparts, said Carla Turner with New Hanover County Public Health, because families travel to be together.

“I think there’s the potential to see an uptick in cases after Thanksgiving because people come together that aren’t necessarily together all the time now,” she said.

The best course of action, Kamitsuka said, would be to gather only with your immediate household, and connect virtually with other loved ones.

That’s what he and his family are doing.

“What we’re going to do is all sit down to Thanksgiving dinner at the same time on Zoom. So that it’s like we have dinner together. And we’ve done this a few times already and it works. I mean, everybody can converse with each other while you enjoy Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

If you do plan to invite non-household guests, Turner had suggestions for how to reduce the risk:

  • Consider asking guests to bring their own food and beverages in their own containers
  • If preparing food, have one person in the kitchen, and make sure they wear a mask and gloves
  • Seat households together and away from other households
  • Eat outside if weather permits
  • Wear masks at all times when not actively eating

These tips will reduce the risk, but not eliminate it, Turner said, especially if you are traveling to an area where case counts are surging.

Kamitsuka said while fatigue of the pandemic has set in, the consequences of actions on Turkey Day will ultimately manifest during the rest of the holiday season, so the time to act cautiously is now.

“We don’t want this Thanksgiving to be the ‘Grinch that steals Christmas,’” he said. “Because if people get infected, at Thanksgiving, they’re not going to get sick, or the deaths are not going to start happening until Christmas. So we really have to protect ourselves and each other, this Thanksgiving, and this Christmas, if we’re going to get through this holiday season, with as minimal pain and suffering as possible.”

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