Thanksgiving is upon us, a time when families come together to overeat, take accidental afternoon naps, toss around the old pigskin and get into heated political tiffs. Of course, this year is going to look a little different thanks to COVID.
Some public health experts are advising North Texas residents against traditional Turkey Day celebrations. They fear such gatherings will lead to an explosion of additional coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“I lost count of the number of families I’m aware of where someone becomes seriously ill or perished because of a family gathering,” said Dr. Erin Carlson, an associate clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“It’s not worth it,” she continued. “It’s just not worth it.”
Monday, Dallas County Health and Human Services reported a new high of 1,831 cases. That same day, Denton County saw a single-day record of both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, according to NBC-DFW. Tuesday, WFAA reported Tarrant County set a “dire” new coronavirus hospitalization record.
In other words, North Texas is going through it.
As such, Dallas County’s health department has issued Thanksgiving safety guidance that discourages people from mingling with non-household members.
“It can’t be a normal holiday, definitely no big family gatherings,” said director Dr. Philip Huang. “Really try to stay with your immediate family members — virtual is ideal.”
If one must travel, consider going on “off days” so as to not be around large crowds, Huang said. In addition, people should avoid meeting relatives who are in high-risk categories such as those with comorbidities and the elderly.
Ignoring safety guidelines could lead to a deadly COVID-19 surge, Huang said. In addition to more deaths, illnesses and hospitalizations, the overtaxed hospital system would suffer.
“All of this is really potentially devastating,” Huang said, adding that people should also get their flu shots, which take two weeks to kick in.
When traveling to meet out-of-towners, it’s important to consider how affected their city is, Carlson said. Jetsetters should check which airlines have stopped selling middle seats and tickets to mask-deniers.
Most people don’t have the luxury of self-isolating for 14 days before travel, Carlson said. Be sure to self-isolate for at least five to six days, since 90% of infected people will develop symptoms within that period.
If families do get together with those outside their household, they should avoid hugging one another, Carlson said. Although it is possible to do a quick, “side-pat” hug, don’t engage in full-on embraces with notorious “super-huggers.”
“There might be some people you need to have a conversation with ahead of time,” Carlson said, “and that is, ‘Hey I love you to death; I love you to pieces. But I’m so concerned about your health, I would not want to give you this disease by hugging you.'”
Many North Texas residents are changing Thanksgiving plans for fear of exacerbating the pandemic. Denton musician Mike Flores, for instance, said he opted out of a long-held family tradition.
In previous years, Flores said he and a group of friends would travel to his hometown, El Paso, to rock climb at Hueco Tanks State Park. (El Paso is now among the worst-hit cities in the United States, with morgues so overwhelmed by coronavirus deaths that prisoners are drafted to tend to the dead.) Calling the trip “Hueco Tanksgiving,” Flores and friends would stay the weekend with family for merriment and Mexican food.
But this year, Flores canceled Hueco Tanksgiving months ahead of time. Even though he’s been careful to abide by all COVID-19 guidelines, Flores said he thought it best to sit this one out; “low-risk” doesn’t equal “no-risk.”
“My parents are getting older, and definitely my number one concern in all of this is not getting them sick,” he said.
Even though it's his first time away from family for the holiday, Flores said they were understanding.
Some people have relatives who don’t take the virus seriously, though, so conversations about canceling get-togethers could be tough. Be sure to remind them that it’s just this one year, said Dr. Diana Cervantes, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Instead of gathering for full-blown feasts, Cervantes said revelers can drive by for a quick hello before returning home. Those who do mingle for longer should wear masks, socially distance and open the windows to aid ventilation.
Still, nobody wants to remember this Thanksgiving as the year Grandma had to go to the hospital, Cervantes said. When in doubt, cancel.
“They’ll get over it,” Cervantes said with a laugh. “There will be other Thanksgivings.”
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