Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that people should not travel for Thanksgiving, citing the rapid increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations around the country. “It’s a strong recommendation,” said Henry Walke, COVID-19 incident manager at the CDC, during a press briefing.
The United States is averaging over 160,000 COVID-19 cases per day, and the coronavirus is spreading out of control in most states. “We all need to consider the safest way to celebrate this holiday amidst this critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Walke said.
The US saw spikes in cases after the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays, and Thanksgiving poses an even larger concern: celebrations usually happen indoors (where the virus spreads more easily), with multiple generations (including older adults at high risk of severe COVID-19). There’s also more virus spreading in most places in the US now than there was during those summer holidays.
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The agency released updated guidelines for the holiday on Thursday, which say that staying home is the best way to stay safe. People thinking about traveling should consider if anyone in their household is at risk for a severe case of COVID-19 due to an underlying condition, if hospitals in their area are overwhelmed, and if they’re able to stay away from others in the two weeks before they might travel, among other questions. “If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel,” the guidelines read.
The process of getting from one place to another also concerns the CDC. “What we’re concerned about is not only the actual code of travel — whether it’s an airplane, or a bus, or a car, or an RV, for example — but also the transportation hubs,” Walke says. “When people are in lines and waiting to get on the bus or get on a plane, people tend to crowd together.”
Gathering with people who don’t live in your household for Thanksgiving is also risky, the CDC says. You can make it safer by eating outdoors and sticking to a small number of guests. People celebrating indoors can keep windows open and wear masks. The CDC also offers advice for shopping around the holiday. The guidelines encourage people to shop online, use contactless pickup, and maintain their distance from others at outdoor markets.
Anyone who isn’t living with you in the 14 days before Thanksgiving is considered outside of your household, Erin Sauber-Schatz, lead for the CDC’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force, stressed on the press call. That includes college students who may call your household home but don’t live there during the school year. “You definitely need to take extra precautions within your house,” she says. That might include wearing a mask inside the house or keeping windows open.
The health and safety of your family members and of other people they may interact with is at stake, Walke says. “The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members, from coming together at this family gathering, actually could end up being hospitalized and severely ill and die,” he says. “People want to see their relatives and their friends, the way they’ve always done it. But this year, particularly, we’re asking people to be as safe as possible and limit their travel.”