Should you gather with unvaccinated loved ones this Thanksgiving? Advice from an infectious disease doctor

The continuing threat of COVID-19 could mean your family’s Thanksgiving will look a little different this year
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 5:17 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As we head into the holidays, infectious disease experts are keeping a close eye on an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

David Priest, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President and Chief Safety Quality and Epidemiology Officer at Novant Health, said while cases started to plateau last month, in the last two weeks, the hospital started to see a slow increase in cases. He said that trend reflects what is happening nationwide.

He expects some community spread of the virus around the Thanksgiving holiday, but not to the extent that we saw last year.

“We do not anticipate the type of fall that we had last year,” he said. “If you are vaccinated and you know those around you at the dinner table are also vaccinated, you can celebrate Thanksgiving normally without masks. We do recommend masking if you’re traveling and in close spaces with individuals who may not be vaccinated.”

When it comes to celebrating Thanksgiving with those who are not vaccinated, Priest advises that individuals assess their risk.

“Holidays are over and stressful enough with family dynamics and COVID can make those situations even more difficult, more challenging and as we’ve said from the very beginning you really have to understand your own risk and the risk of those around you,” he said. “If there are individuals in your family who are elderly and with other health problems and they are at high risk of having complications, those individuals need to be protected by having only vaccinated family members around them.”

Systemwide at Novant Health, Priest said there are roughly 200 patients admitted in the hospital who either currently have COVID or are no longer positive for COVID but still suffer from complications associated with the virus.

Priest said 85 to 90 percent of those admitted are unvaccinated. The average age of a hospitalized COVID-19 patient is 58.

Patients who are vaccinated and admitted into the hospital are typically in their 70s with underlying medical conditions. According to Priest, many in that category got a vaccine early on but did not yet get a booster.

He stressed the importance of booster shots, especially for those who are 65 years of age and up.

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