'The virus is attending these events': Experts fear COVID-19 spike from holiday gatherings – even if they're small

Holiday gatherings carry the risk of spreading the coronavirus among loved ones. For those determined to see family and friends, here are some tips.

10/21/2020 6:32:00 PM

“All along there have been issues about attending weddings, funerals, religious gatherings and other events that are part of our normal life...the virus is attending these events and can be transmitted from person to person.’’

Holiday gatherings carry the risk of spreading the coronavirus among loved ones. For those determined to see family and friends, here are some tips.

Last week, health officials in the Washington area saidsmall gatheringshave been a factor in the region hitting a two-month high in coronavirus cases."All along, there have been issues about attending weddings, funerals, religious gatherings and other events that are part of our normal life," said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University."They bring people together and potentially become vectors for the virus. As many public health experts mention, the virus is attending these events and can be transmitted from person to person."

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Don't let 'the virus get to grandma'The CDC, which is discouraging traditional trick-or-treating this Halloween, on Mondayupdated its guidance about holiday celebrationswith advice on how to reduce risk of infection.The tips for in-person gatherings include commonly known mitigation measures such as holding events outdoors, limiting their size, having participants wear masks and maintaining social distance. The CDC also encourages hosts to request that guests avoid contact with people from outside their household for two weeks before the activity.

Safe inside:Fauci warns against Thanksgiving celebrations: How to stay safe indoors from the coronavirus during cold seasons?The impracticality of some of the safety measures – it’s hard to fit everybody at a table 6 feet apart or to eat a meal outdoors in the late November chill – combined with a sense of defiance will likely lead many to ignore the suggestions.

"I know there will be plenty of families who mock this kind of advice and say, 'That’s ridiculous. We’re going to get together and enjoy Thanksgiving like it’s supposed to be and no one’s going to tell us otherwise,'" Woolf said."That may give them a sense of independence, but then the virus gets to grandma and she ends up in the hospital on a ventilator, and then you live with the guilt."

Woolf and other experts recommend that families in separate households sit at their Thanksgiving tables at the same time and connect through a video platform such as Zoom, which might give a sense of sharing the meal. If members of different households will be congregating inside, opening windows would at least improve ventilation and could help diffuse the virus, reducing the chances of contagion.

For someone like Cioe-Peña who works in public health and sees the impact of COVID-19 on a regular basis, the decision to find alternate ways to celebrate the holidays, while painful, was pretty clear-cut."I want to see my parents this Thanksgiving. I’d love to spend time with extended family. This year it’s not in the cards," said Cioe-Peña, who along with his wife is planning a Halloween candy scavenger hunt in the backyard for their two young children, rather than have them go out trick-or-treating with friends.

Others with less direct exposure to the virus’ ravages might be more tempted to take a chance, especially those who have avoided traveling to see relatives as the pandemic has stretched over months.Weighing risks versus the pain of isolationCraig Smith, an associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, said isolation over long stretches of sheltering in place can lead to a profound sense of loneliness and feeling disconnected, particularly for those who have young children and are trying to balance parenting with work. Missing out on family gatherings would only aggravate those feelings.

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"Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays are especially tough because, on top of the normal need to interact with friends and family, they are lifelong rituals for people of sharing those particular days and those particular meals," Smith said."So for many people there’s going to be a palpable sense of loss when they’re unable to get their whole family together, but the risks of course are enormous."

Read more: USA TODAY »

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