Why Public Health Officials Are Worried About Thanksgiving Gatherings

As coronavirus cases surge in Michigan and nationwide, public health officials are urging people not to gather in large groups for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Public health officials are urging people not to gather in large groups for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

It’s usually a time for bringing together family from all over the place, sharing food, talking, and really getting close to people — all things that are really bad ideas when the world is in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, especially when the spread of the disease is the worst it has ever been. Michigan alone has reached almost 100,000 cases just for the month of November.

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Hospitals across the state and the country are at or near capacity, and that’s why public health experts and healthcare workers alike are begging people to stay home this holiday.

“When we have individuals out in the community out and about, and we test people, 10% of the people that we test are asymptomatic,” said Dr. Paul Kilgore, associate professor and director of research at Wayne State University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He is also the principal investigator at Henry Ford Health System’s novel coronavirus vaccine trial. “So in large family gatherings, there is a chance that someone could be there who is COVID positive but is actually asymptomatic and could spread [the virus].”

Kilgore spoke with Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today about how to keep safe during the holidays.

The Do’s and Don’ts of holiday gatherings:

  • DO keep in mind that the virus travels differently indoors and in cooler air. “We know as people come indoors and as the proximity of individuals becomes closer, it’s much easier for the droplets… to move from one person to another,” says Dr. Kilgore. He adds, “In the wintertime with the lower humidity… the respiratory droplets can travel farther than they would in the warmer summer months when there is higher humidity.”
  • DO wear masks and face coverings, even when outdoors.
  • DO stay socially distanced. Even if you’re gathering outdoors it’s important to stay six feet apart according to Kilgore.
  • DO wash your hands frequently. Hand hygiene is second only behind mask-wearing in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 says Kilgore.
  • DO gather in a well-ventilated space. Kilgore says maintaining steady airflow by keeping windows open can help any droplets in the air disseminate more quickly.
  • DON’T invite everyone you know. The state says to keep gatherings limited to ten people and no more than two households, and some experts recommending keeping the guest list even tighter than that. Kilgore says it’s best to keep it to your family already in the household.
  • DON’T make the party last all night. Keeping the gathering short and sweet limits the risk of transmission. Kilgore recommends limiting it to an hour or less and gathering outdoors if possible.

For more information, check out the CDC’s guidelines for holiday celebrations and small gatherings. 

There is a lot at stake this holiday. The number of coronavirus cases are continuing to tick up and up and a widely available vaccine is still a ways away. Right now, the best thing anyone can do to curb the spread is to have a small Thanksgiving with your immediate household, with the hopes that we’ll be able to all be together next year.

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.